Monthly Archives: September 2004

digital xenophobia

In checking my email this morning, i was really disturbed by a message on a mailing list that i lurk. The question was simple:

Is anyone worried about the community being diluted with non-geeky type people?

My first reaction was one of insult. There’s nothing like digital xenophobia to get my goat early in the morning.

First, this is the problem of all online communities. What draws people to them is homophily – birds of a feather stick together. Folks are ecstatic when they walk into a community where everyone’s like them.

In theory, people want to espouse the liberal value of tolerance and love of diversity. In reality, most people are anything but that. Ask the anti-Brazilians on Orkut. We have the language to criticize the neo-Nazis on Friendster, but how different are the anti-nongeeks? We really only know how to talk about racism, sexism and homophobia. You can’t really say “we don’t want any girls here” and get away with it now (although you may think it). [Of course, one contemporary approach is to allow a handful of token women in, but maintain the male dominance…]

Unlike the more politicized phobias, xenophobia and classism often go unchecked. It is even more culturally acceptable to want to maintain a community of others like the original community and to reminisce about when the community was closer, had more in common and when there were less problems.

Of course there are more problems in a heterogeneous community. People don’t speak the same (actual/conceptual) language. Diversity brings divergent opinions, values, ideas. Diversity requires us to broader our perspective, appreciate things where we are not superior and realize that not everyone comes about an issue from our perspective.

With community tools popping up daily, everyone’s talking about how this tool can be used by everyone in the world – won’t it be great? Yet, as soon as multiple communities use the tool in different ways, everyone flips. No one actually knows how to manage diverse communities with different values. Why? It’s a really hard SOCIAL problem that doesn’t have a simple technological solution.

[I’ve got lots more to say on this topic, but until next time…]

on dating

[warning: personal blog entry]

I’m often whimpering to my poor roommate about my lack of dating. His response is typically a reminder that i don’t have time. I’m usually stubborn to this response, arguing that i’ve dated plenty when i’m in more stressful times than this and ones where i’ve slept a lot less and done a lot more. He’s always quite weary of this response.

To spite him, i got this bright idea to start responding to online personals. But then his statement finally hit home. I don’t actually have time to date people that i don’t know. In truth, i’ve never actually “dated” anyone. I’ve had friends or colleagues that became partners through some odd set of circumstances or a foolish idea. I don’t actually know how to meet people and i certainly don’t have time to go through the rigamarole of dating – meeting people you don’t know, seeing if things might work, trying out chemistry, etc. I don’t actually have time to get to know new friend groups or scenes. And i’m not even sure i have interest.

What i want is that magical miracle where someone just instantly fits into my life and i fit into their life and everything just works out. My roommate is definitely right in that i have impossible standards. Yet, i didn’t really realize how unrealistic they were. ::sigh:: So impossible. Gah.

Flickr slideshow

Have i told you how much i love Flickr? Well, it’s true. And over and over again, they impress me with new features that are brilliant for both the voyeur and the everyday user.

Today, i finally sat down and looked at slideshows. Slideshows let you take a tag and just slideshow through all images with that tag on it. Stewart loves the sleeping slideshow. I’m partial to the Burning Man slideshow… of course. [If you’re a Burner, add your images to Flickr!]

“Sentenced to Be Raped”

In June 2002, the police say, members of a high-status tribe sexually abused one of Ms. Mukhtaran’s brothers and then covered up their crime by falsely accusing him of having an affair with a high-status woman. The village’s tribal council determined that the suitable punishment for the supposed affair was for high-status men to rape one of the boy’s sisters, so the council sentenced Ms. Mukhtaran to be gang-raped.


But instead of killing herself, Ms. Mukhtaran testified against her attackers and propounded the shocking idea that the shame lies in raping, rather than in being raped. The rapists are now on death row, and President Pervez Musharraf presented Ms. Mukhtaran with the equivalent of $8,300 and ordered round-the-clock police protection for her.

from Sentenced to Be Raped

Engaging the TV-minded

My grandfather and i often speak about Christian morality in the context of politics. This has become increasingly noticeable this year and i was stunned when he told me that Bush was not a Christian (in his actions, not necessarily his purported religious association). That gave me hope.

I decided to assemble a little pre-election package for my grandparents. I wanted to send them: Moral Politics, Don’t think of an Elephant, Unprecedented, Outfoxed and Fahrenheit 9/11. Much to my dismay, Outfoxed was only available on DVD and F9/11 wasn’t to be released for a few weeks so it cost a fortune. But still, i sent them the other three.

This made me wonder. I get an AOL CD every few weeks. I realize that not everyone (like my grandparents) have DVDs. But DVDs are much cheaper to produce than VHS tapes. I’m getting all of this paper political propaganda, but most Americans don’t get their propaganda on paper – they get it on TV. This is why organizations spend millions of dollars to place their ads on FoxNews. Of course, FoxNews is biased.

What would it mean for MoveOn (or other organizations) to start manufacturing DVDs and shipping them off to potential voters? Imagine a hand-written note from a volunteer saying that this might be of interest to you (oh random stranger from a swing state). Imagine shipping out Outfoxed or Unprecedented or F9/11 rather than asking people to pay for it. The people who buy it are already converted. Imagine putting a little note saying “if you don’t have a DVD player, return this card and we’ll send you a VHS copy; give the DVD to a friend.” I wonder what percentage of people would watch a movie that appeared on their doorstep. I’d bet a decent number. Certainly more than read paper propaganda. The TV is what makes most people in this country think. Why not work with the TV, even if you can’t work with the TV stations?

Curious about Libertarians

Some of my closest friends are libertarians. I love them to bits. Yet, their politics strike a chord in my heart that makes me shudder. Since i’ve been taking the Lakoff class, i’ve been faced with the dichotomy between conservatives and progressives. It always makes me wonder where the libertarians fit in.

In Moral Politics, Lakoff argues that libertarians are fundamentally conservatives ++ (read this chapter if you’re a libertarian!). Barlow concurred, telling me that’s what he used to think that he was. He’s always told me that the approach libertarians take boils down to “leave us the fuck alone.”

In thinking of the values of libertarians, the first that immediately comes to mind is meritocracy. Interestingly, most of my friends who espouse to be libertarians are some of the most privileged intelligent folks that i know. I’m not convinced that meritocracy gave them that privilege. From a meritocratic value system, everyone has equal opportunity to succeed. It is their responsibility to work hard; if they do, they will have access to the fruits of success. Another strain says some people are more intelligent and they simply should have the rewards of that.. this is the outright elitist strand. The work-ethic value comes straight out of conservative thinking. In either case, both go against my own progressive value system.

I strongly believe that the world is inherently unequal and unfair. I believe that fairness is essential and that no one should suffer simply because of the position they were born into. I believe that we must work to make access open to everyone. I believe that a diverse community offers different perspectives, all of which are exceptionally valuable. This means diversity across all axes. A pure meritocratic system consistently excludes people from lower socio-economic classes and poorer countries. This bothers me.

In theory, libertarians and i have the same views on a lot of policies. We’re both pro-choice on lots of topics. We’re both anti-military. Yet, our motivations behind these stances are fundamentally different. Take the military. Libertarians simply don’t want to pay for it. I think that we need to be a part of an international community and that cannot be done by force. Libertarians would never be in favor of working with outside agencies for anything. Most of the libertarians i know are mostly of the civil liberties style. They don’t want the government to curtail their liberties. I don’t want the government to curtail equality or opportunity, which often boils down to not wanting the government to curtail liberties.

While we have similar beliefs, no libertarian that i know is in favor of social programs of any sorts. Education. Housing for the poor. Affirmative action. Economic support for working mothers. Environmentalism. Yet, these are all policies that i’m adamantly in favor of. And my motivation comes down to my strong belief in equality, fairness and opportunity.

The thing that i cannot resolve is why so many of my younger libertarian friends think that they’re more aligned with progressives than conservatives when they don’t believe in any of the underly motivations of progressive and their underlying motivations are more attuned to conservatives. What am i missing? What don’t i understand about libertarians?

classroom blogs/wikis?

Are you a teacher or professor? Does your class have a blog or a wiki that is used for classroom purposes? If so, can you list it in the comments or send me an email with the URL to dmb .AT. sims .DOT. berkeley .DOT. edu

“The Media Sucks, And It’s Your Fault”

Ethan Zuckerman has some interesting data on the topical coverage of blogs.

There is often a fantasy that blogs will cover more diverse topics than the mainstream media, that they will force the media to cover different topics. Ethan is bothered by the fact that neither mainstream media nor bloggers cover news from less developed regions of the world. So, a research question emerges: in what ways are bloggers expanding the scope of the mainstream media and in what ways are they duplicating it?

I love you [rev.eng]

One morning in the fall of 2000, i woke up to a message from my ugrad advisor Andy van Dam with the subject “I love you.” I remember scratching my head and wondering if Andy had fallen off of his rocker. [Mind you, Andy is not one to profess his love to anything or anyone, and certainly not in email. His typical message reads: “Pls c me. Tx avd”]

The message appeared blank, with only the subject line (gotta love pine on Solaris boxes) and so i slowly crafted an email to Andy asking if he was OK and if there was anything i needed to do. His response email was a collection of foul words, only making me more concerned about his state of well-being.

As i was crafting a response of confusion, i received four more “I love you” emails. I quickly figured out that a virus was on the loose and i rolled onto the floor laughing imagining everyone in Andy’s addressbook receiving a message that was so-not-Andy. Executives at Microsoft, former students, heads of companies. Apparently, he was apologizing for that one months later. Still, it brought me great joy to get at least one emotional message from him, virus or not.

Given all of this, it brings me great joy to hear of a new exhibit at my Alma Mater entitled I love you [rev.eng]. [Review]