Saturday, February 2, 2013

Creating Our Own Cages?

I’m writing a feature article right now. Well, maybe not right now. I’m actually taking a break to write something related, but not the actual article. I don’t think what I have to write fits in the realm of the magazine I’m writing for (it’s too cynical-sounding. I think), so I’ll write what I think here.

Algorithms: we’re trapped in them. Google’s algorithm gives you results based on what results you’ve liked in the past, what sites you regularly visit… It’s great because it helps filter the results for the stuff that’s most likely to interest you.

Go figure. No need to get out of your comfort zone. This phenomenon of being given what you want, what you expect, what agrees with you, has been called something—the
echo chamber. I would also like to call it our self-induced and regulated cage. I, for example, was stuck using just a handful of websites all the time—Facebook, Gmail, and Google if I ever needed to search for something. I restricted what I saw to what I already had discovered. Yep, we keep ourselves from the world by caging ourselves in with seeking people and facts that match up with what we already know. 

How are we supposed to learn more about the world if we only look for what we already know? If we don’t go out of our way to search for people who disagree with us? Sure, we have the Internet with all of its resources; they help us find out all sorts of ways to support what we know. But do we know how to use those resources to cause dissonance? With so many groups and people we can find that are like us, will we even think to look for ways to expand our minds by talking with people with different worldviews?

I think a great way to challenge those worldviews we’ve never really second-guessed is to travel. Yes, travel. See the world! Better yet—see the people of the world! Not just through the Internet—actually going somewhere you haven’t been and being surrounded by people who were raised differently from you, who might even speak a different language . . . it’s then that you can really see how many ways there are to look at the world, and maybe to examine your beliefs. It's then that you can appreciate some of your beliefs even more, and adjust the ones that weren’t completely founded. But even travelling places doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to truly expose yourself to how other people think. No, for that you need to actually talk to people.

I was talking with two of my friends, Scott and Kirsten, about their most recent undertaking—teaching middle and high school students in Kazakhstan. Yes, you read that right, Kazakhstan. Kind of random? Ya. Great opportunity? They definitely say so. One thing that really struck me when I was talking to them was the things they really missed, such as being able to talk with people. The official language in Kazakhstan is Kazakh, but most things are also in Russian. Kirsten said that it’s sad the loss of connection you have when you don’t have the ability to ask someone in the store to help you identify which carton says “milk” or to compliment someone at the store on her cute outfit. She realizes how much she wants to connect with the people around her, now that she’s not as freely able to do so. Yet she wrote on her blog that she sees so many similarities between her Provo students and her Kazakh students...people are people wherever you go. 

Another thing Scott and Kirsten mentioned was that since there are few people who speak English, their pool for friends is much smaller than it was in their former home of Provo. As a result, they are friends with people in Kazakhstan they wouldn't normally be friends with. What they have in common with these new people is language, but they aren't necessarily alike in other ways—such as nation of birth, and how they see the world and approach problems . . . 

There’s a lot that they said that made me think, but I should really get back to writing the actual article now . . . I’ve taken a long enough break.

What are other ways we can “randomize” our connections with others, and our self-directed learning online? I think figuring that out is important in approaching life-long learning, as well as truly learning right now. 

And what better way to get out of cage than break out via plane? Sounds pretty spectacular to me. :)

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