another sort of distance


I am feeling the distance between me and people I rub shoulders with. I think of this as partly a tradition I inherited from my Father and Grandfather Jenkins who spent their lives dealing with a similar tendency. I can see that where I live, how I think and see the world often puts me on the outside of situations, if not invisible to others. And I tend to identify with the outsider, the outlier, the weird one.

I put this to the test last night. Eileen and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix. I queued up a Charlie Chan movie. I used to love these things when I was a young man. But now I couldn’t watch it. The stereotypes, the demeaning presentation of Chinese Americans defeated me even though I appreciate a dumb detective plot. No more Charlie Chan for me.

I woke up this morning to find that my House Representative, Bill Huizenga, voted against raising the debt limit and opening the government last night. Ay yi yi. I regularly sample the radical right on sight news sources but have as yet to see a coherent defense of the position Huizenga is taking. I tweeted him and made some comments on his Facebook page to register my disagreement with his actions. On the Facebook page I noticed the wide range of civility of people who both agree with him and disagree with him.

Which leads me to my next topic, homophily.


I ran across this word in Ethan Zuckermann’s Rewire. He brought it up in a discussion of how limited the distance is between us. He started by pointing out flight patterns that demonstrate that most movement is not international but more local. He cites the work of Dr. Karl Rege and his team at the Zurich School of Applied Sciences whose video of the results is sitting on YouTube.

Then he asks the reader to imagine what it would look like if one could see the movement of each individual in the world on a time tracked video. He points out that this daily movement would include mostly short trips but that it represents the most movement of all people in the world. He says this way:

If we could overlay the trillions of trips people make on foot or by bicycle, bus, and car, the flights on Rege’s animation would disappear in a blur of local movement. The sort of transnational travel depicted on O’Sullivan’s airline route map becomes a rounding error.”

I quite like that: “a rounding error.” He is referring to a map by John O’Sullivan:

In this visualization, photographer John O’Sullivan shows every commercial airline route between two cities.

He concludes that most movement in the world is local movement. E.g. most USA air flights are domestic and under 900 miles often within the same time zone.

Then he observes:

When we encounter content on the Internet, physical distance is largely irrelevant; we seldom know whether we’re reading a web page hosted nearby or halfway around the world. But we need to consider another sort of distance, a distance between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Homophily is an organizing principle of human societies. It’s just how we are, we resemble what we are attracted to. It’s that simple. However, traversing the distance between our safe echo chamber to the unfamiliar is a necessary step to understanding our world.

Jes sayin’

2 thoughts on “another sort of distance

  1. I’m glad to see you mention Zuckerman. It’s fun to read a book so recently published about all this stuff, eh? I was lucky enough to meet Zuckerman and some of his colleagues when I visited the MIT Civic Media Center earlier this year. Was so refreshing to meet academics that understand, critique, and BUILD tech in the context of real-world issues of equity and justice.

  2. Zuckerman is both teaching me background that I hadn’t put together and also giving me some tools to understand my own relationship to and use of information mostly via the Internet. Thank you again for giving me this ebook.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.