Internet as mediator: web sites provide online resources for building community and conversation

Web sites promote community and connection.The ability to follow links is one of those things that make surfing the Internet so addictive. Links also bring you about as close as you can come to the experience of infinity. A friend sends you an email with a link to a blog. That blog has a link to a web site, which contains a link to yet another blog, which leads to another blog, which leads to another web site….and so on, ad infinitum. (At least in theory. In reality there are, alas, more important things that reclaim our attention—like working and earning money.)

It’s that connectedness that intrigues many of us about the Internet. The Internet of course creates connectedness not just among web sites but among people as well. Through its facilitation of communication and community, it knits us together. In that sense it is the ultimate mediator.

With the values of community and connectedness in mind, I offer you three web sites which promote those ends:

The World Citizen’s Guide was initiated by Businesses for Diplomatic Action, Inc. (“BDA”). Recognizing that world opinion of Americans has grown increasingly negative in recent years, BDA sought ways to stem this rising tide of anti-American sentiment. Each year some 170,000 American college students travel abroad. Seeing the possibility that each one of these students could in theory be an ambassador for America, with the potential of restoring good will towards the U.S. by countering harmful stereotypes, BDA set into motion the project that would ultimately produce the World Citizen’s Guide, a manual for students with tips and ideas on how to be good citizens of the world while traveling abroad. (For an interesting perspective, click on the tab on the web site marked “100 People” for a breakdown of what the world’s population would look like if the planet held only 100 human beings.) World Citizen’s Guide is available for downloading in PDF format.

Tolerance.org, an award-winning web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, aims to fight bigotry, promote tolerance, and build communities in which diversity is valued. It offers resources and links to teachers, parents, kids, and teens. (You can test yourself for your own hidden biases by following the link on the Tolerance.org web site to Project Implicit, an instrument which measures unconscious bias.)

Finally, there’s Global Voices Online, a global citizens’ media project, with the motto “The world is talking. Are you ready to listen?” There are conversations going on around the world on grassroots levels as private citizens blog or podcast, or participate in wikis, or engage in synchronous or asynchronous online discussions. There are parts of the world, too, where these conversations never begin because of lack of access to technology. Sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, Global Voices Online seeks to build bridges that span technological, geographical and linguistic divides through the dissemination of open-source tools and technology that will enable individuals and conversations around the world to connect with each other. Bloggers of the world, unite.

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