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Blogger of the Week: Gilad Lotan

Gilad Lotan

An artist, programmer and technology explorer, Gilad Lotan has been giving Global Voices Online‘s readers routine insights into the Hebrew blogosphere since May 2007, covering Israel, where arguments get heated and emotions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict run high. How does this 30 year old manage? How does he select the conversations he wants to cover and why? Also, what are his other interests?

To find out, let's ask Gilad the following questions:

How long have you been blogging and why did you join GVO?

I’ve been blogging since 2005. At first I mostly used my blog for documenting projects and school lectures. But what really got me writing was my Master’s thesis at ITP, New York University. I worked on creating a service that enables travelers to connect and take part in local initiatives around the world – Indigi-Net. It is a concept still in development, in which I truly believe. Travel Globally Act Locally is the one-liner and a substantial part of it deals with making local information that is usually unseen, visible. The big idea was to use the already existing network of backpackers who visit remote locations, usually armed with cameras and phones. I envision the output as a stream of constantly updated information coming from these regions. My school advisor put me in touch with Ethan Zuckerman, who led me to David Sasaki, who suggested that I cover Hebrew for GVO.

At first, the notion of writing to myself troubled me, but as I got into it, I realized that there are two participation layers to blogging. Just like any successful project or application, there exists an inherent (self)-benefit for a blogger. I write for my own use, to document projects, jot down technical specs and think out loud through concepts and ideas. But I also write to be part of a conversation. It is important for me to add my personal perspective to issues close at heart, even if it is read only by a handful of my friends.

What is the importance of your work at GVO?

The longer I am part of the amazing community at GVO, the more I realize its unquestionable importance. Getting local stories from people around the world is a difficult task. It is impressive to see how dedicated everyone is to the task at hand. GVO is building its credibility as a powerful portal, surfacing unique perspectives on newsworthy events around the world.

Even though Israel receives more than enough coverage by mainstream media outlets, I know for a fact that the majority of people have long ago stopped trying to understand this never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In many people’s eyes, Israel is a place of war, bombs and constant battles. True, the many conflicts of the past years tremendously affect the country, but there are many other issues, some extremely important, which are always overshadowed by the larger conflict. People do not realize the extent to which internal struggles are taking a huge toll within Israeli society. Some are about the definition of Israeli identity, clashing between orthodox and secular, its unique cultural diversity and immigration laws, in addition to a variety of issues that come up regarding minorities such as the Bedouins, Druze and Israeli Arabs.

Gilad Lotan Challenges Yazan Badran

The second reason for being part of the Global Voices community is obviously to compete against Yazan Badran for the ridiculously crazy hair award! Although I’ve still got some ways to go…

What’s your perception of the Hebrew blogosphere? What are its characteristics?

It always amazes me how many Israeli characteristics are amplified through the Hebrew blogosphere. When you walk down the streets of Tel-Aviv, people are noisy, extremely talkative and very social. Shyness is a vague concept. Sifting through Hebrew posts I am fascinated by how reactive people in the space are. Many comment on each other’s writings and many react to the ‘topic of the day’ chosen by the community. Hebrew news sites also have extremely high numbers of comments after each article. Many people end up reading only the comments, as discussions heat up and spiral off into other topics.
Another characteristic of this space are its extremely popular centralized blogging portals. Users host and update their posts within portals such as Israblog, Tapuz or café.themarker. The sites do a good job at building a strong sense of community around different topics of discussion. This is a true reflection of Israeli society – hanging out with the ‘hevre’, or ‘gang’ – and engaging in enthusiastic discussions. It is a common to hear one describe the average Israeli as someone who ‘always has something to say’. This definitely shows online!

What are the criteria you use to select translations and topics for your posts? Do your views and perceptions impact what you select?

It is difficult to please everyone. And most of my posts end up pissing off at least one of the readers who many times leaves heated comments. Most topics around the Middle East conflict are so sensitive, as both sides are substantially hurting. My goal is to represent different Hebrew voices on topics which are not at the mainstream media’s attention. Many times this is a challenging task, which requires hours of sifting and digging through posts. However, I am very careful with the extremist voices, which I personally think should not be amplified by GVO.

Other than blogging, what else have you been working on?

I am a new-media hacker/artist and my work explores the intersection of technology and art. I create screen-based visualizations as well as physical networked objects. A main theme that links many of my projects is news. I think a lot about finding ways to enhance viewer’s experiences when consuming “the news”; enhancing the emotional connection, and thus making it a memorable moment, in hope that something will stick.

Last year I built the News Wheels installation, inspired by Tibetan Prayer Wheels. Each wheel controls news images coming from a different continent. I wrote custom software that pulls these images into the projected space and activates them according to the wheel’s turn and speed. Turned out to be a very engaging display that gave viewers a horizontal-visual slice of world events at that moment. It was appealing to see images of news coming from Africa having the same stature as those coming from North America.

I like to focus on taking the interaction outside of the keyboard-mouse-screen paradigm. This wacky object is called imPulse – a heartbeat sharing device. It is an exploration of intimacy and presence through mediation. The imPulse pods allow their users to share heartbeats across a distance. The idea behind this project was to connect people from either side of a wall by amplifying and sharing an internal, private process; creating an intimate moment which can transverse through any physical obstacle. And sadly, we have more than enough walls around us.

Tell us about one of your interests.

I love traveling and have been fortunate to live in many parts of the world. I’ve spent about a third of my life in East Asia, living in Singapore, Taiwan and most recently Hong Kong and have visited most countries in the region and love immersing myself in new cultures, architecture and food. I am an avid photographer, and constantly update my flickr account (haven’t traveled enough recently, though…).

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