A few days ago I wrote that I worried the Internet is making me stupid because of a phenomenon called "homophily"--the tendency for we humans to connect to and bond with people who share common backgrounds, interests and values. The rise of the social web gives us even greater opportunities to connect with people we wouldn't encounter in physical life. However the features of social media tend to reinforce homophily by pointing us to other people like us, as with rating systems ("other people who bought this book also bought. . " ) and social networking sites where we connect with friends of friends of friends. The effect of this can be that we tend to associate online primarily with those people who think as we do, which in turn can cause us tune out the possibilities that there are other ways to think.
Happily, that post resulted in a rash of comments, as well as a follow-up post from Ethan Zuckerman, one of the people I quoted in my previous post. Previously I had intended to move into a post on strategies for challenging homophily, but that will have to hold for now as I continue to explore my sense of what it means.
I see a few issues here:
- Is homophily about being interdisciplinary or is it about something broader?
- Who is online and what are they doing? Essentially can we believe that we're hearing all voices online?
Is Homophily About Being Interdisciplinary?
Many of my commenters indicated that they don't feel they're being impacted by homophily, pointing to the fact that they read blogs from many different areas of interest. Said May, for example:
I don't really read anyone who writes like me. I write book and movie reviews, but I never like to read blogs that are just book or movie reviews. I write about health and lifestyle stuff but I don't subscribe to any blogs about it either. I subscribe to non-profit and marketing blogs, but I don't write about that kind of thing in my blog for the most part.