Homophily can make you stupid. But learning the word itself can help make you much smarter… Social scientists use the vocabulary word Ethan Zuckerman taught the European Bloggers’ Lab on Thursday to describe the intrinsic human tendency to relate to others like them.
The tendency of “birds of a feather” to “flock together” happens at lunchrooms, on the playground and online. “This is something that comes up again and again as we come into this new media,” said Zuckerman, who is affiliated with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. He is also the co-founder of Global Voices. It is a phenomenon to be avoided, he continued. The Massachusetts resident briefly profiled the user demographics of social news site Reddit, one of many news aggregation sites that allows users to vote on the contents of its pages. Its users: 92 percent male, 70 percent based in the US, 68 percent students or IT workers, 43 percent democrat, 29 percent libertarian and 6 percent Republican.
The problem? Well, for Zuckerman, an unobvious one: He described himself as quite similar to Reddit users. Consider a maxim your mother may have told you: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” Ditto for reading. “If you always hear the same things from the same people you are going to become dumb.” Zuckerman called the fight against homophily the attempt to engineer serendipity. How to engineer some new connections online? Look at sites like Evgeny Morozov’s Polymeme (another vocab word!), he suggested. Try to find bloggers with whom you don’t necessarily have a lot in common. Zuckermen mentioned Saudi Jeans and Mahmood’s Den, out of Bahrain.