The Big Sort

Our offline geographical communities are affecting our online communities, this also affects our news habits as well.  Bill Bishop is an author, reporter and columnist from Texas, who wrote a book called The Big Sort.  The book explains that in order to understand what is driving young people towards homogenous communities online, we have to look at the geographical transformation of American neighborhoods off line.  What he means by homogenous communities online is our generation’s disregard of local news and newspapers.  We tend to gravitate towards niche web sites that reflect our social class, lifestyles, habits, religion and culture.  The big sort began in the 1970’s when Americans began to cluster and gravitate towards others that share the same ideologies.  They moved into gated communities and formed housing associations and surrounded themselves with people that resembled their lifestyles, class and ideologies.  Bishop explains that these sites are not the cause of social divisions, kids have grown up in neighborhoods of like-mindedness, so hegemonic groups are considered normal.  The choices young people make regarding what sites they visit and rely on online for news and information are not immune to the social forces that shape their lives off line.  If an individual grows up in a community that relies on the internet as its main source of news and information, then that individual will most likely never pickup a news paper.  The specific web sites that this community favors as their best source of news will ultimately become the individual’s most, if not only visited and reliable source of information.  So basically you are where you live, who lives next to you and whom you talk to.  When we bond with people that resemble us instead of bridge with others outside of our social class, we are trapped in our own social bubble’s niche comforts.  In order to be more aware and knowledgeable one must strive for diversity and stepping outside their comfort zone.

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One thought on “The Big Sort

  1. If you find this topic interesting, I highly recommend looking into the work of Richard Florida. In his book “Who’s Your City?” he extends the idea of The Big Sort to explain global talent migration. A concept central to his work is that geographic location is still very important, despite what some may theorize about how the internet dissolves all distance.

    I believe much of his writing suggests that it is a good thing to reflect on one’s own beliefs, interests, and lifestyle in order to choose the best place to live. Moreover, this may involve moving to a location that has career growth opportunities. His work goes so far as to suggest that there are ideal neighborhoods to choose when moving to a new city – neighborhoods that match your lifestyle. Although the ideal place to live is not the same for every individual, people may be more successful if they move to areas that already mesh with their lifestyle. Though Florida mainly focuses on economic indicators, I can definitely see this as leading to increasingly homogeneous communities.

    However, Florida puts much emphasis on cultural diversity and creative jobs on the success of a city. Specifically, his “Bohemian-Gay Index” suggests “Artistic, Bohemian and Gay populations increase housing values in the neighborhoods and communities they inhabit.” This seems like an interesting contradiction between commending diversity and recommending a move toward homogeneity.

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