Warren Sack introduction

Warren Sack wsack at MEDIA.MIT.EDU
Mon Feb 28 00:01:06 UTC 2000

Hi all,

I've been subscribed to the list for quite awhile, but
I have not yet introduced myself.  I just finished my
Ph.D. at the MIT Media Lab and will start as a research
scientist here in a couple of weeks.

I'm working on two overlapping projects that might be of
interest to Critics-L subscribers: (1) very large-scale
conversations; and, (2) international youth movements.



My current work concerns a phenomenon that I am
calling very large-scale conversations (VLSC).  The
best of examples of this, at least right now, are
busy Usenet newsgroups.  My utopic hope is that
computer networks will provide
a means to have a truly global conversation.  The
current UN Report on Human Development estimates that
only 2% of the world is connected at this time, so
access for 98% of the world's population is a huge
problem that must be solved for the commencement of a
global conversation.  However, even if everyone has
access, it is unclear what it would mean to actually
have a conversation with hundreds or thousands,
much less millions or billions of people.  How might
we have a chance to listen to everyone?  How can we
even think about what the results or processes of such
a conversation would look like?  I am trying to construct
some theoretical tools (extending insights from
conversation analysis and discourse analysis) and some
software tools (using and extending techniques of
computational linguistics, quantitative sociology, and
interface design) to start thinking about VLSC.  As
a practical side effect I have built a new kind of
newsgroup browser that can process archives of
several thousand messages and then generate a
graphical interface that lets one browse the messages
according to who is "talking" with whom, the
emergent themes of conversation; and, the
emergent definitions or metaphors of a given VLSC.
Check out my web page if you'd like a demo or
pointers to publications:


I am working with an international group of youths
who are very serious about solving the world's problems.
There are about 3000 kids in 157 countries.  100 of them
came to MIT to meet face-to-face, but their
discussions have been and continue to be mostly online.
They are worried about education, child labor, poverty,
war, cross-cultural communication, and the environment.
Right now, most of their peer-to-peer interactions are
not open for public inspection, but their monthly
newspaper can be found here: journal.jrsummit.net;
one of their main organizing ideas has a slight web
presence here: www.nation1.net; and, the archives of the
face-to-face meeting can be found here: www.jrsummit.net.
The kids and I are going to be working together this spring to
build an online environment for discussion, debate,
voting, and translation.

Warren Sack, Research Scientist
MIT Media Laboratory

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