Talking to Strangers

July 11 2012

I'm a professor at MIT; I study how people share information online and am optimistic about better communication helping to create a better world. But paradoxically, as ever more novel communication technologies are emerging, there are serious breakdowns in meaningful communication.

The United States shows an ever-widening schism between political left and right who refuse to even talk to each other, let alone compromise in tackling national challenges. Blogs are hyper-partisan, speaking only to the true believers and reinforcing their preconceptions. Social network tools like Twitter and Facebook are great for chatting with friends about inconsequentialities, but actually decrease our tendency to pay attention *outside* our social circle. When is the last time you used social media to change the mind of someone who disagreed with you about something that actually mattered?

I signed up for The Listserve to help me think about tools that could enhance communication among strangers. It's great to communicate to a huge group of listeners. But what's next? How could this turn into a multi-way conversation? What about a blog where one random person posted every day but everyone could respond in the comments? With 20,000 people on the list, how could we handle everyone talking at once? What are the tradeoffs between picking a random sender versus using social moderation to choose the "best" one, whatever that means? How could this large group work together to map out the pros and cons of an important issue and decide on a best policy?

David Karger
[email protected]
Cambridge, MA, USA

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