I had the pleasure of hearing Zuckerman present at a conference earlier this year to an audience that didn't work in his particular field (Zuckerman is the Director of Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab and focuses on the distribution of attention in mainstream and new/social media). While not his typical constituency, Zuckerman expertly drew the connections from his research and knowledge of global trends around media and individual engagement that clearly resonated with our broad-based group. I found myself wanting to learn more about his work and came to "Rewire."
"Rewire" is a fascinating read that coalesces Zuckerman's passions, including Africa and the developing world, the attention paid to and consumption of media focused on global issues, the expansion of individual voice through social media, among others. His purpose in writing the book is to elevate the importance of living dual lives, as citizens of nations and citizens of the world. His belief is that those with a practical, literate understanding of global issues and cultures ("cosmopolitans") will yield, to keep it simple, a better world. In a tightly organized but highly readable fashion, he advocates for an alternative mindset around media consumption and engagement to solve a core problem of our "connected age", a paradox: that while it is easier than ever to share information from across the world, the manifold lenses through we which we access and view the world - Twitter, newspapers, television, people - have become narrower. Similarly, we are less open to "serendipitous" encounters that may foster new learnings and cross-cultural understanding. It's terribly interesting.
While Zuckerman's argument is interspersed with stories of other's research, case studies, and examples, at times they seem self-aggrandizing. In many cases, he knows the individuals involved and worked with them at some point in his life (the introduction of the book invites the reader to join he and his friends in realizing a "rewired" world). He clearly values their insights, but on occasion the names become muddled. On the whole, they support his argument if they have not outright informed his argument.
As a newcomer to books such as these, I'm sure there are more thoughtful counter-arguments to what Zuckerman proposes. For myself, the core question I have is whether or not he overstates the importance of the examples he presents. He argues that people have a tendency to care more about what's immediate to them and around them. Additionally, what's already like them (homophily). I spend quite a bit of my time working in a severely disinvested city where many of its residents are experiencing extreme poverty and isolation, lack of safety, and other social pathologies. I can't help but think that the issues experienced individually in neighborhoods like what I've described have more pressing matters to attend to, if they have adequate resources and access to the "connectors", those who can provide guidance and curation to other cultures and information. At what level is participation possible as opposed to trickle-down beneficiary of a more caring world? Of course, the book arcs at a high-level, so more practical-oriented questions aren't addressed.
Overall, as a call to engage, the book is inspiring and enjoyable. Sure, there are holes to poke but at its core the book is fundamentally about one thing: the possibility of a better connected world and better outcomes for people across the globe. If that also interests you, you will enjoy Zuckerman's idealism.