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Worth reading: Ethan Zuckerman's Rewire

Pardon me for a moment while I kvell. My husband Ethan Zuckerman has a new book out: Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, published by WW Norton. Here's how Norton describes it:

Rewirecover-197x300We live in an age of connection, one that is accelerated by the Internet. This increasingly ubiquitous, immensely powerful technology often leads us to assume that as the number of people online grows, it inevitably leads to a smaller, more cosmopolitan world. We’ll understand more, we think. We’ll know more. We’ll engage more and share more with people from other cultures. In reality, it is easier to ship bottles of water from Fiji to Atlanta than it is to get news from Tokyo to New York.

In Rewire, media scholar and activist Ethan Zuckerman explains why the technological ability to communicate with someone does not inevitably lead to increased human connection. At the most basic level, our human tendency to “flock together” means that most of our interactions, online or off, are with a small set of people with whom we have much in common. In examining this fundamental tendency, Zuckerman draws on his own work as well as the latest research in psychology and sociology to consider technology’s role in disconnecting ourselves from the rest of the world.

For those who seek a wider picture—a picture now critical for survival in an age of global economic crises and pandemics—Zuckerman highlights the challenges, and the headway already made, in truly connecting people across cultures. From voracious xenophiles eager to explore other countries to bridge figures who are able to connect one culture to another, people are at the center of his vision for a true kind of cosmopolitanism. And it is people who will shape a new approach to existing technologies, and perhaps invent some new ones, that embrace translation, cross-cultural inspiration, and the search for new, serendipitous experiences.

I am most certainly biased -- I've read the book many times over in draft form; besides which, I'm awfully fond of its author (today's our fifteenth wedding anniversary!) -- but I think this book is fantastic.

As it happens, I'm not alone in that. Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it a "fascinating and powerful reflection on what it means to be a citizen of the world in the Internet age" and praising its "imaginative and inventive reflections [which] offer a resourceful guide to living a connected life with intention and insight." And sources ranging from The LA Times to Foreign Policy call it one of the top books to read this year.

Rewire combines a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of what it means to be a citizen of the world today, and of the places where our habitual blinders keep us from connecting across borders and cultures, with engaging personal stories -- some from Ethan's own experiences, some from his voluminous research. (I'm particularly fond of the one about Arnel Pineda. We both became big Pineda fans when he was researching that story; we even bought a Journey Live in Manila dvd!) And the book also offers thoughts about the choices we could make in order to shape a better, and more interconnected, world. At its heart, this book is about people, and about the amazing richness to which we have access when we connect with each other across our differences.

In my life and work this takes a somewhat different shape -- cconnecting with people across religious differences, both within Judaism and across the broader religious (and non-religious!) spectrum -- but this kind of bridging and connection is a passion which Ethan and I share. It's one which we hope to pass on to our son. And I love knowing that someday, when our son is old enough to read it and understand it, we can press this book into his hands and say, "This is what your dad was working on when you were born, and he wrote it for you."

danah boyd writes:

A compelling account of an intertwined global world, Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire makes you fall in love with a wide range of cultural practices and peoples. As he explains the importance of understanding not just how information flows but also how people connect, he lays a foundation for rethinking what global citizenship can and should be.

You can buy it on Amazon (hardcover; Kindle) or Powells (hardcover). If you want to natter about it once you've read it, feel free to come back here and join the conversation in comments! I am so happy that this book exists -- not only because my husband wrote it, but also because I think it says important, valuable things. Here's to rewiring our world.