Ethan Zuckerman speaks about ‘Imaginary Cosmopolitanism’ & breaking it

Ethan Zuckerman is a writer and internet technologies activist.

Although I have spoken critically of globalization, I have critiqued, not criticized, many aspects of the neo-colonial aspects of globalization.  The world has been interconnected for centuries.  In most areas connected by landmass, there has been an incredible diversity of trade and trade routes, and the encounters between different peoples and groups, ways of living and thinking, ways of conflict, ways of resolution, ways of continuity, ways of destruction.  In the present incarnation of globalizing intentions, there is that continuity of colonial expansion which continues the legacy of entitled exploitations, the destruction of diversity, homogenization and assimilation, and the complex and contradictory elements of cultural contact and the residues of ‘whiteness’ that create neo-liberal formations mixed with local intentions and power relations.

At the same time, the decreasing of time/space through faster transportation, telecommunications and computer and future technologies, has made global contact in more frantic and easier pace.  This has given the illusion of an increasingly global world, but in fact, as Ethan Zuckerman points out, the elites are the ones who do most of the contact and travel towards traveling and face-to-face contact.  In addition, he points out that there is an illusion of increased contact because in reality, as we have been developed in nation-state mentalities, which separate and form nations based on race and ethnicity and controlled by socio-economically more privileged, we tend to do everything, including internet searches and research, along the lines of our ‘flock.’  This points to the re-tribalizations that happen in globalization, where we tend to find those who think like us and have common interests, and depend on them for information that is ‘other.’  The ‘other’ is not just a person/body.  The ‘other,’ in the case of the internet and these modern visual/audio technologies, is also ideas and thought formations, news events and issues that are not within our own ‘flock’ way of doing research.  Even simple things like doing ‘searches’ will be done in a culturally familiar way for most of us.  This leaves out that which is outside of our domain.  For many who think of themselves as global, it may not be so ‘global’ at all.  Our patterns of in-group ways of acting in the world, performing ourselves, include aspects of xenophobia, possibly.  Put in another way, we are largely informed and shaped by society and culture(s).

Ethan Zuckerman points to the sad fact of US American media and the historical trajectory of the information we receive.  It mentions that nowadays, many US Americans prefer UK news because many feel that the US media is very limited.  He points to the decrease in international news and the fact that most news, especially in the US, is about local news and the news of countries the US has invaded (i.e. Iraq, Puerto Rico, etc.)  He also mentions that internet search statistics reveal that most searches are done across first-world (the richest nations of the world) news and those of  areas the US has invaded.  Also, in search patterns, there are some areas that are hardly touched in search patterns on the internet, and they are usually smaller countries, the Middle East and the former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucuses, and Africa.  These lands happen to be where western and first world interests have shaped their governments and have created turmoil.  It is understood that it is not just an accident that news and searches and general knowledge of these areas are kept out.

The colonial nature of our ‘freedom’ must be questioned.  We must question our own thought patterns and what ‘turns us on’ as far as news media, entertainment, activism, and world events.  We must question the terms through which we must become interested.  This is what Ethan Zuckerman would ask us to do.  He has been attempting to form new ways where citizens who want a globally more understanding and knowledgeable world, to actually begin going ‘outside of their known patterns’ and to be able to go outside of their language/culture, to think differently, and to break the patterns that we have been living  in order to access a more global, instead of imaginary global.  He asks us to do this to become different people, with a more varied and multiple array of stories in which to make a difference in the world and to not succumb to nation-state and corporate brain-washing when it comes to information and important issues.  We should want to go to unfamiliar places and try some serendipity in order to think differently.

My critique would be that this is a continuation of the co-opting of various cultures and knowledge for exploitative intellectual/cultural gain, personal enjoyment, without a concern for alliances, justice, friendship, political involvement, curiosity, peace.  My hope is that this is not a continuation of that energy and that is broken to create more spaces for creative thought and discussion towards alliance-building and a better understanding of our place in power-relations and history.  I think this is what Ethan Zuckerman also would want……..but I’m not going to speak for him.

General overview of who he is: