The expanse of the Web has often set up a myth that, much like the American Dream, with just a little up-by-your-bootstraps work ethic and a little bit of elbow grease, anyone can succeed at whatever their goals may be. In reality, however, the openness of the Web can mean that quite the opposite happens. Despite the increasing presence of a diversity of voices and faces, the Internet isn’t fulfilling its disruptive potential; more often than not, it’s simply replicating and amplifying inequality and segregation. No good!
Largely, this isn’t intentional – no, there are no secret cabals meeting monthly in order to ensure women and people of color don’t get too much influence on the Web, at least not that we know of. When we remove explicit structure and barriers, like say, oh, when we create a giant open platform in which just about anyone can do anything, implicit barriers arise. What do I mean by implicit? Our biases and cultural norms. Those pesky social structures we’ve been living with for a few thousand years, which often leave out multitudes of voices. The problem? We’re breeding staleness and inertia into our systems when we unconsciously ignore the sameness of the identities and backgrounds of whomever is participating.
Creating a just and thrivable ecosystem – whether that’s an service, organization or a whole society – is sort of like the evolution of a species. If you have a bunch of the same DNA mixing together, the species mutates poorly and eventually dies off. But bring in variety – new strains of DNA – and you create a stronger species. It’s no different in idea generation. You get a bunch of the same people talking to each other and making the rules for a few millennia, and eventually you’re going to end up with a lack of meaningful advancement.
It’s time to bring fresh life into conversations and developments, and between the whip-smart people at this shindig and the social technologies both in play now and coming down the pike, we’ve got a great shot at doing so.
Deanna Zandt is a media technologist and the author of Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking (forthcoming: Berrett-Koehler, June 2010). She is a consultant to key progressive media organizations including AlterNet and Jim Hightower, and hosts TechGrrl Tips on GRITtv with Laura Flanders. Zandt specializes in social media, and is a leading expert in women and technology. She has spoken at a number of conferences, including Social Business Edge, Ignite, the National Conference on Media Reform, Bioneers, America’s Future Now (formerly “Take Back America,”) Women Action & The Media, and provides beginner and advanced workshops both online and in person.
In January 2009, Deanna was chosen as a fellow for the Progressive Women’s Voices program at the Women’s Media Center. She also serves as a technology advisor to a number of organizations, including Feministing, The Girls & Boys Projects and Women Action & The Media, and is on the board of the Applied Research Center, publisher of ColorLines Magazine.
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