Trusting People

One of the most recent shows on “Radio Open Source” was on Craigslist (show aired February 7, 2006).

ROS talked about Craigslist before, in the context of Katrina. Among the interesting comments in this specific show, some discussion of people in general being trustworthy, on average, with Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, talking about his not being to become really cynical. This is basic humanism. Or, to disambiguate a bit, “anthropophilia.” Being another one of those (naïve) believers in the principle that you should do to others what you’d like others to do to you, I’ve also tended to trust people so that they can trust me. You know, it’s been working fairly well.
That discussion included some mentions of human values and needs deemed to be universal. Interesting in and of itself. But also interesting in connection to other comments during the show.
For instance, ROS regularly includes discussions of the relations between the global and the local. Newmark mentioned the “Think Global, Act Local” principle. (Among craft beer people, think global, drink local.) While the term is as clunky as can be, thinking and acting “glocally” is another way to put it. Our thinking is still local even when it touches on the global and our most local actions have global consequences.

An interesting dynamic in Radio Open Source that was quite obvious in this show is that though the show is meant for a global world (host Christopher Lydon keeps mentioning the global ties of the show, through the ‘Net), it tends to be rather U.S.-centric and often coastal. It’s produced in Massachusetts, listeners who call the show are most frequently from the U.S. Northeast, and relatively few of the guests are located in the U.S. “Heartland.” For instance, this show had four guests: two from San Francisco (where Craigslist originated) and two from the u.S. Northeast (Cambridge, MA and Burlington, VT). There are good reasons for those choices but in the context of the show, it’s an interesting observation. Lydon even Teachout (who’s affiliated with Harvard but teaches at UVM) about what should be done in rural America. While Burlington might be bucolic to Bostonians, it’s not the most representative part of rural America in most people’s minds (at least, it has a better diversity in cafés and brewpubs than many urban areas!). As a matter of fact, Burlington itself has its own Craigslist site.
A related issue is that, though Lydon kept mentioning apparently surprising examples from non-U.S. Craigslist sites (mostly from one of the most populous cities in the world, Mumbai), he also quoted people who saw Craigslist as either representative of San Francisco or “America.” Some comments were made about the fact that Craigslist is still an English-speaking site but no discussion of the deeper implications of language preferences ensued.
To put these things together a bit clumsily. If Craigslist is based on a concept of trust and this trust is based on the idea that basic human values and needs are universal, it would seem important for the principles behind Craigslist to apply as broadly as possible. This is not criticism. Craigslist is a cool site, populated by a lot of cool people. That’s also part of the point. While it’s not exclusive in any way, it probably attracts a certain type of people.

Also interesting were notions of social capital, local communities, personal support, and networks. Most of these notions were articulated by Thomas Sander with direct reference to his colleague Robert Putnam. Echoes of “Social Structure 101” but well integrated in the discussion. In fact, put in connection with comments by other guests, these notions seem especially significant. We do all understand important differences between online and offline contacts and their effects. In different ways, using different angles from the deeply philosophical to the most practical, including some important socio-historical connections.
Nice to think about.

Having said all of this. Radio Open Source itself seems to have improved, in recent months. Host Christopher Lydon seems to be giving more room to his guests, cuts them off in a less cavalier manner, and is more efficient at making people have interesting discussions. The next show, aired on February 8, 2006, was overall among the most respectful ones, especially an extended interview with Marc Lynch. Lydon did fail to understand some points made by his guests, but he still gave more room for them to express than he usually does. That show was on the Jazeera channel and, a bit more broadly, how people in the U.S. can understand Arabs and Muslims through changes in the mediascape of Arab and Muslim region (mostly West Asia). Several references to Iraq, journalistic insistence on current events (and the implication of the Media), typical views coming from the U.S. perception of “the rest of the World,” but many insightful comments by guests.

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