A couple of things 21-year-old US student Charles Tong told YPULSE in its latest “millennial interview” reminded me of a study of Brazilians his age. Referring to the site where President Obama made a seemingly impromptu appearance this week, Charles talked about how reddit is one of his favorite social sites because “because it easily connects me to millions of other anonymous like-minded users around my age group around the world.” And he talked about participating in a global “collective of information” common to “millions across the world” – how an Internet meme might be referenced simultaneously by people connected to the Net from anywhere on the planet. He used the word “astonished,” and I would too.
His global sensibilities are a lot like the ones turned up in a survey of 18-to-24-year-old Brazilians presented at South by Southwest Interactive last spring. The “Brazilian Dream” study found that youth in that country see themselves as global as well as local actors, or change agents, connected to a global culture. This awareness crosses interest communities and local communities, offline friends and online “friends” and peer groups.
At the very end of his interview for YPULSE, Charles said, “People in this generation are starting to possess the same day to day information, and as a result could potentially lead many of us to start to think very similarly.” Hmm. Wish I could follow up with him on that. “Very similarly” or “together”? Those are actually two very different things. Maybe he was thinking both, but his words suggest “echo chamber” or “in lockstep,” which is not good. But I suspect he may also be thinking “together,” which suggests global memes, yes, but also potentially collaborative problem-solving, as in members of a school class or cross-functional team thinking together. It could go either way, of course. Eli Pariser, former head of MoveOn.org (mentioned in this week’s feature too) warned of the echo chambers going up online because of personalized search and “filter bubbles.” Worth guarding against in our use of connected technologies. But we’re seeing the opposite happening too: As Charles himself said, we’re seeing interest groups and discussions that cross generations and geographical, economic, and many other kinds of barriers. This creates collectives that can find co-problem-solvers anywhere the instant a problem arises – turning a “collective of information” into a collective of social change that brings in an historically unprecedented array of skill sets and wisdom. An astonishing prospect.
* “From digital people [immigrants, natives] to digital wisdom,” on Marc Prensky’s rethink of the term he coined
* A bit of background on Obama’s appearance on reddit at the San Jose Mercury News
* …and the numbers Obama’s appearance generated in the Washington Post