virtual

Being A Year Ahead Of GigaOm On Future Of Communication

Mathew Ingram of the emerging tech & disruption of media site GigaOm.com tackles a topic close to my heart in his column today: "The Future Of Online Etiquette Is Already Here, It's Just Unevenly Distributed". Ingram comes to the same conclusion we arrived at in our GlobalNiche webchat series more than a year ago with our guest speaker and world citizen, international worker and multidisciplinary strategy consultant Shefaly Yogendra on Communication Styles of Mobile Progressives.

In that hour-long live discussion (listen to the recording at the link!) we asked,

Do your friends and family and colleagues think you enter an 'international cone of silence' when you leave their physical sphere?

 

Out of sight, out of reach. Apparently, that’s how our global existence sometimes feels to people who aren’t in the habit of connecting every which way like we’ve grown used to doing. Someone left me a message on my new American phone line  in 2012 saying “I’ve been waiting 10 years to talk to you” — yet I know I’m more connected now than ever.

The GlobalNiche community talked about this literal and figurative disconnect, and how forward-looking, world-flung types like us can maintain our connections across vast geographical — and perceptual and behavioral — divides.

Our conclusion, which GigaOm just got to?

The more progressive party has to communicate with people where they exist, and that may be somewhere in the past.

 

False Cosmopolitanism

We’re suffering from a false sense of cosmopolitanism. Access to the worldwide Interwebs leads us to imagine ourselves global thinkers. But we’re not -- unless we’re true xenophiles, bridging cultures, immersed and knowledgeable about multiple worlds. Most people hang out in “like-minded microcosms” and when we cross a boundary online the new light shed on everyone’s prejudices and assumptions can take us by surprise.

“Xeno-confusion” is happening more often in the virtual world, like this stumble into unfamiliar territory. Viewed through the lens of American civil politics, an American company's skin whitening product campaign on Facebook targeting Indians raised an anticolonialist uproar -- but not from the Indians. (No similar protests reported for popular self tanners that darken the skin.)

The launch of TEDWomen, a conference examining the effect of women and girls on the world’s future, created its own online culture shockwave. Are we all on the same page, North American feminists blogged here and here and here, wondering if a gathering separate from the main TED event to discuss the impact of womankind is brilliant or belittling. A blog sought a more nuanced perspective and tried the group replacement test, substituting one marginalized group for another. Imagine TEDGay. TEDMinority. TEDPoor.

Recently in a 10,000-person international network for women writers I found myself in an alternate online reality. An author asked the general community of “White people” (sic) to promote her new work, sight unseen besides a short synopsis, because booksellers relegate titles by black authors like her to a separate section and that negatively affects sales.

Her book substance-free promotion was at odds with how and why people share information and recommendations about books, even marginalized, discriminated against writers. Instead she let everyone know she “loves White people” and her “Spanish husband looks white on the street”.

A majority of the responses were “Sure, I’ll do that for you.” I expressed my confusion. Why was she talking to us like we were part of the problem? Why not normalize the work by taking it off the margins and offer to show it to those of us fellow writers who want to review it in our respective media and communities?

What a baffling corner of the Internet: a place where I'm addressed like a person who normally chooses reading material based on the author’s skin color  -- that would be dumbly racist, no? -- someone who today can be convinced to promote a title (to my Great White People Book Club) based on the original poster’s shelving problems at the bookstore and the-more-palatable-to-me skin tone of her husband glimpsed from afar.

Does it matter that there is definitively no such thing as a White people, or a Great White People Book Club, or that the motivation for word of mouth marketing requires a product to be “extremely helpful, interesting, unique, or valuable to a specific niche market”? Not in that particular microcosm, a place running on logic inherently foreign to me.

In this SheWrites universe I don’t even need to do a group replacement test (“Rich people”, “Powerful people”, “Beautiful people”) to know someone imagines it’s that easy to butter me up for their own purpose.

We may believe we’re global thinkers, and not be. But we’ve got other challenges. To be a global thinker demands we navigate and find a way to bridge worlds that might make only a sinister kind of sense.

As a xenophile, where online do you stumble?

Reacting To Taboo: How Avoidance Can Make Us Complicit

I'm looking forward to attending TEDGlobal in Oxford especially since the 2009 conference's theme is "The Substance of Things Not Seen".  Invisibility, hiddenness, misapprehension -- all are threaded  through my own work. Consider Expat Harem's anachronistic, titillating concept. It taps into robust yet erroneous Western stereotypes about Asia Minor and the entire Muslim world: a forbidden world of cloistered women. When infused with a modern and virtual positivity -- the Expat Harem as peer-filled refuge and natural source of foreign female wisdom  -- a masked reality emerges: the harem as a female powerbase. This is an Eastern feminist continuum little known in the Western world.

"Help people talk about what they're most afraid of," is a mantra I've been hearing a lot from thoughtful personalities in my life. But first we have to surmount our own resistance to the topics.

I'm discovering with my latest book project, a forensic memoir of friendship, that taboo has an unintended cloaking effect. Societal taboos may be meant to protect us from harmful practices yet banishing from our thoughts the most unimaginable and unspeakable human acts only makes us blind to them happening in our midst.

By finding it so unthinkable, we make possible for taboo behavior to continue in our communities.

Name a taboo from your life.  When you hear it mentioned, what’s your reaction?