Full interview: Ethan Zuckerman on Xenophiles and Cultural Bridge Figures

Original photo by whiteafrican

"The Internet Age should be a golden age for bridge figures and for xenophiles."

That's what Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society wrote in his blog post, Bridgeblogger and Xenophile, a tale of two bloggers. But just what is a xenophile, according to Ethan?

It's been a challenge for me to define xenophiles as a category without falling victim to definitions that are trivial or superficial. It's easy to dismiss the idea by suggesting that everyone who eats sushi and listens to world music is - or considers herself to be - a xenophile. Too loose a definition and "xenophile" ends up sounding like a synonym for "liberal", "multicultural or even "politically correct", which isn't what I'm intending.

Xenophilia is about connecting with people, not with cultural artifacts or other things. Liking Japanese food or Senegalese hiphop doesn't make you a xenophile - xenophilia is about making connections across language and cultural barriers motivated by your interest in making better sushi or translating Daara J lyrics. Xenophilia is broader than the love for a specific culture or an aspect of that culture - it's a broader fascination with the complexity and diversity of the world. Xenophilia changes your behavior, especially your behavior in seeking for information, leading you to pay attention not just to the parts of the world that have caught your attention, but to others that you know little about.

This morning, Nora interviewed Ethan about the benefits of xenophilic thinking. A shorter version of their conversation will air on the January 7 & 10, 2009 episode of Spark, but you can download the MP3 (runs 31:37).

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