Echo Chambers

An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system. Inside a figurative echo chamber, official sources often go unquestioned and different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented. The echo chamber effect reinforces a person’s own present world view, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is.  Wikipedia

…an unfortunate and largely unintended consequence of the rise of social media is that instead of being better informed and exposed to ever-broadening viewpoints, research shows that Americans today are more polarized and draw from shrinking pools of news.R. Sunstein

In the last decade or more, our government and society in general has become more polarized. The ability (willingness) to communicate with those who do not share our views/beliefs has become an endanger species.  There seems to be general agreement that a prevalence of echo chambers is a significant factor contributing to the state our society.

Echo chambers are ubiquitous.   Social media, news outlets, blog feeds, churches, families, neighborhoods, communities. If there is a context where differences exists, a “safe room” (echo chamber) will emerge and like-minded people will seek refuge.

Echo chambers are not a new phenomenon. They are the consequence of human nature’s inclination to tribalism.

Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason. Think of the inhuman things we do in the name of tribal unity. Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism – wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their own children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change or other basic scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs. What stunning evidence of the power of tribalism!

How Tribalism Overrules Reason, and Makes Risky Times More Dangerous

Not unlike many facets of our society, echo chambers are benefactors (victim?) of the digital and technological revolution.

Since we’ve become so attached to social media, we are less and less required to interact with people who disagree with us. Technology allows us to reach across state lines (and even oceans) to find people who share our beliefs and values. Until social media designers can address the fact that these platforms allow the increasing polarization of users into small, tight-knit communities, stopping the proliferation of misinformation will continue to be a challenge.    The social media “echo chamber” is real

I would suggest that technology has unleashed the ever present malevolent potential of echo chambers in ways never imagined. Some would suggest that the existence of democracy is threatened.

The subject of echo chambers has become increasingly personally relevant. After recognizing my self imposed political/social echo chamber, I made a decision to dampen the echoes and open myself to different sources.

My efforts have met with mixed success. The peril of trading one echo chamber for another is real. The most significant result of my decision, thus far, is that it has become a catalyst for more serious thought and investigation into the character and nature of echo chambers. this blog post is the first, in what I hope to be a series of posts, addressing questions, ideas and issues that I have encountered related to echo chambers.

Remember to “like” this post so our like-minded friends can enjoy it.

 

 

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Freedom by Issac Keene

How free is the butterfly who does not spread its wings?
How free is the instrument if no one plays its strings?
How free is the giant ship when moored upon dry land?
How free is the ostrich whose head is in the sand?
How free is the bird once loosed, his cage now out of sight?… If the foolish avian refused to take flight?

Though I’ve said, “I’m free in Christ,” to walk by faith, I’ve failed. And though my chains have been untied, my boat has never sailed.

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Echo Chambers REALLY?

After my previous post, it is apparent to me that echo chamber posts are not going viral. I’m not too surprised. Wrestling with the idea and implications of echo chambers requires more than a cute meme and a few pithy quotes. After all, who wants to consider that their comfortable social/ideological confines may be a threat to democracy.

I remain convinced that awareness and understanding of echo chambers is important to personal and societal well-being. It is too simplistic to assign echo chambers sole responsibility  for the deep division in our country. To do so is akin to assigning parents sole responsibility for the their children’s outcome. Echo chambers are incubators for our development as human beings, for good or ill.  Echo chambers greatest peril for ill is their appeal to and nurturing of  our natural inclinations toward tribalism, group think, confirmation bias and certainty.

There is equal opportunity for good. Echo chambers can function as a “deliberating enclave”.

…“enclave deliberation,” … defined as “that form of deliberation that occurs within more or less insulated groups, in which like-minded people speak mostly to one another.” … (Sunstein)

The main value of deliberating enclaves is not that they increase conversation across differences, but that they enable like-minded people to make progress in what they agree about.

The real problem with echo chambers therefore isn’t that they consist of people who believe the same things and whose discussions strengthen their beliefs. The real problem is that some of them are wrong — in their beliefs, their methodology, or, often, in both.  David Weinstein

The most significant human trait that sustains and encourages the proliferation of and participation in harmful echo chambers is our unwillingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong.

Don’t forget to “like” this post so our like-minded friends can agree.

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Echo Chambers :The Importance of Being Wrong

A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right , basically all the time , about basically everything : about our political and intellectual convictions , our religious and moral beliefs , our assessment of other people , our memories , our grasp of facts . As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it , our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient .

Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority , the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition . Far from being a moral flaw , it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities : empathy , optimism , imagination , conviction , and courage . And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance , wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change . Thanks to error , we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world .

…  it is ultimately wrongness , not rightness , that can teach us who we are .

Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

The above quotes capture the paradox each of us find ourselves in as we strive for meaningful and authentic lives. An unrelenting pursuit of rightness is pitted against our incontrovertible fallibility.  Amazingly, left to our own devices, rightness will almost always win out.

Our desire for rightness leads us to echo chambers  where our “rightness” is amplified and error is filtered out. Like a butterfly from a cocoon, we emerge in the beauty of our rightness, confirmed in our infallibility.

The cost of rightness can be high.

The avoidance of  controversial issues or alternative solutions creates a loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.  Rightness binds and blinds us. An “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty of our rightness) can prevail. Stereotyping of, and dehumanizing actions toward, dissenting persons can develop.  As true believers we can produce fantasies that don’t match reality. 

Interpersonal communication is stifled outside our echo chamber  Immersion in the comfortable confines of an echo chamber result in significant losses, not the least of which, can be family and community relationships.Echo chambers reinforce our natural tendency to restrict our relationships rather than expand our social interactions.

Residing within an echo chamber strips our lives of serendipity and wonder. We trade off the opportunity to engage the endless diversity of the world around us.  We are not unlike  “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis)

There is no price to high to maintain our rightness.

The Importance of Being Wrong

The most significant human trait that sustains and encourages the proliferation of and participation in harmful echo chambers is our unwillingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong. ( previous post) Without awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility, echo chambers will be a natural consequence in a society that is increasingly polarized.

…embracing our fallibility not only lessens our likelihood of erring , but also helps us think more creatively , treat each other more thoughtfully , and construct freer and fairer societies .

Schulz, Kathryn.

The challenge is how do we cultivate a healthy understanding and acceptance of our “wrongness”?  I will attempt to address that challenge in my next post.

To err is to wander , and wandering is the way we discover the world ; and , lost in thought , it is also the way we discover ourselves . Being right might be gratifying , but in the end it is static , a mere statement . Being wrong is hard and humbling , and sometimes even dangerous , but in the end it is a journey , and a story . Who really wants to stay home and be right when you can don your armor , spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world ? True , you might get lost along the way , get stranded in a swamp , have a scare at the edge of a cliff ; thieves might steal your gold , brigands might imprison you in a cave , sorcerers might turn you into a toad — but what of that ?

Schulz, Kathryn.

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To err is human; to admit it, superhuman.

This post is the fourth in a series about echo chambers.

  1. Echo Chambers    
  2. Echo Chambers REALLY?
  3. Echo Chambers :The Importance of Being Wrong

My motivation for writing about echo chambers comes from a deep concern about the political and cultural climate that exists in our country today. The depth of division and polarization rivals the civil rights and Vietnam eras. Although protests and violence have not matched those eras, it seems that the potential for doing so is real.

It is my belief that echo chambers are an amplification device that fuels division and polarization that dominate our cultural landscape. Echo chambers are not new but a natural consequence of our desires as humans to confirm our rightness. My goal is not to eliminate echo chambers, they will always exist. What is important is to understand the dramatic transformation that echo chambers are experiencing through continued technological advances, particularly the emergence of social media and the impact they have on our culture.

We have unprecedented access to information in unlimited quantities controlled by algorithms designed to maximize information relevant to our personal lives. Such access has potential for positive impact on our lives. The driving force for the development and continued enhancement of social media is economic, not social/political or altruistic.

Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of social media, i.e. Facebook et al, is that it has become the drug of choice that feeds our insatiable appetite to confirm and reinforce our rightness. Essentially, our Facebook (or other social media) echo chamber is our “safe space” where we can fire our salvos of  sometimes vitriolic and/or hateful rhetoric. Protected by anonymity and absence of personal interaction or accountability, we can finally fulfill our dream of “telling them what I really think”. A cursory review of comments in response to a controversial post can be shocking and disheartening.

Whatever our politics, inhabiting a bubble makes us more shrill.  Nicholas Kristof

The dynamics of  echo chambers feed our natural inclinations toward tribalism.

Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason. Think of the inhuman things we do in the name of tribal unity. Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism – wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their own children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change or other basic scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs. What stunning evidence of the power of tribalism! 

It matters little whether our cause is right or wrong in terms of the effects of echo chambers on our society. As long as we believe we are right, we will find justification for our words and actions. The digital age has unleashed the latent malevolent  nature of echo chambers.

To err is human!

The real problem with echo chambers therefore isn’t that they consist of people who believe the same things and whose discussions strengthen their beliefs. The real problem is that some of them are wrong — in their beliefs, their methodology, or, often, in both.  David Weinstein

The most significant human trait that sustains and encourages the proliferation of and participation in harmful echo chambers is our unwillingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong. Without awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility, we will be vulnerable to the ill effects of echo chambers.

…embracing our fallibility not only lessens our likelihood of erring , but also helps us think more creatively , treat each other more thoughtfully , and construct freer and fairer societies .

Schulz, Kathryn.

The challenge is how do we cultivate a healthy understanding and acceptance of our “wrongness”?

If you read my previous posts you may remember my promise to address the above  question in this post. I apologize. I underestimated the depth of the challenge. Hopefully, my next post will engage the challenge.

 

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Embracing our Wrongness

…embracing our fallibility not only lessens our likelihood of erring , but also helps us think more creatively , treat each other more thoughtfully , and construct freer and fairer societies .

Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (p. 18). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Previous posts:

  1. Echo Chambers    
  2. Echo Chambers REALLY?
  3. Echo Chambers :The Importance of Being Wrong
  4. To err is human; to admit it, superhuman

This is my 5th post on the subject of echo chambers. If you haven’t read the previous posts or just don’t want to do so, below is a brief summary that will help get you to the subject of this post.

  • Echo chambers are a natural consequence of human interaction and are ubiquitous in our society. They have potential for good or ill. Social media has unleashed the malevolent potential of echo chambers which bears much responsibility for our divided, polarized culture.
  • It is too simplistic to assign echo chambers sole responsibility  for the deep division in our country. To do so is akin to assigning parents sole responsibility for the their children’s outcome. Echo chambers are incubators for our development as human beings, for good or ill.
  • Our desire for rightness leads us to echo chambers  where our “rightness” is amplified and error is filtered out. Like a butterfly from a cocoon, we emerge in the beauty of our rightness, confirmed in our infallibility.
  • The most significant human trait that sustains and encourages the proliferation of and participation in harmful echo chambers is our unwillingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong. Without awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility, we will be vulnerable to the ill effects of echo chambers.
  • The challenge is how do we cultivate a healthy understanding and acceptance of our “wrongness”?

First, some clarification. These posts are not written to  initiate/encourage a movement against echo chambers. My motivation for writing grows out of personal participation in my own echo chambers and significant life experiences that revealed my fallibility. Through no effort of my own, I have come to understand the impact and importance of echo chambers in my life. If is my purpose to present each reader with an opportunity for reflection and introspection. This is personal not corporate or political. To use a biblical metaphor,  I hope that individuals will become leaven.

I believe it can be helpful to use the concept of natural frequency to understand the dynamics of echo chambers and how acceptance of our fallibility can reduce, perhaps eliminate, the negative/destructive aspects of echo chambers.

Natural frequency is the frequency at which a system tends to oscillate in the absence of any driving or damping force.1

With the understanding that I am not a physicist, let me propose an analogy of natural frequency to the physics of echo chambers.

Supposing the natural frequency of the echo chamber in which we reside is ƒ [rightness]. An external application of ƒ[rightness] will cause the echo chamber to oscillate and achieve resonance i.e. resonate with us. In simple terms, “they are playing our tune” or  “on my wave length”.

So what’s the problem? The application of ƒ[rightness]  at increasing amplitude can grow enough to, as in case of a glass, shatter the object. Perhaps my analogy breaks down with destruction, but I think, at a minimum,  it supports Nicholas Kristof’s  assertion: Whatever our politics [et al], inhabiting a bubble makes us more shrill.  

I do believe that if we are exposed to increasingly stronger reinforcement of our rightness, in the absence of any driving or dampening force, it will result in unhealthy (destructive) consequences. For the system (echo chamber) to achieve resonance and allow us to reside there healthily , there must be driving or dampening forces to protect the system.

It is my premise that awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility fills that requirement. I would also suggest that a natural frequency analogy supports the idea that individuals acting as leaven can be a force that prevents destructive outcomes.

Hopefully, this discussion has help to explain the importance of awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility. Unfortunately, in the face of our unrelenting desire to be right,  the question of how to we achieve awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility remains. Maybe next time?

 

 

 

 

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Why is it so important to be right?

This is my 6th post on the subject of echo chambers. If you have not read the previous posts, I encourage you to do so. Clicking on echo chambers on the menu above will take you to the previous posts.

It is my premise that awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility is the key to avoiding the negative consequences of our own particular echo chamber. That premise is a stark contrast with our unrelenting desire to be right, the quality that is the creative force of echo chambers.

A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right , basically all the time, about basically everything : about our political and intellectual convictions , our religious and moral beliefs , our assessment of other people , our memories , our grasp of facts . As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it , our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.
Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong

Why is it so important to me that I be right? Kathryn Schulz is helpful …

…moments of rightness represent both the high – water marks of human endeavor and the source of countless small joys . They affirm our sense of being smart , competent , trustworthy , and in tune with our environment . More important , they keep us alive. Individually and collectively , our very existence depends on our ability to reach accurate conclusions about the world around us . In short , the experience of being right is imperative for our survival , gratifying for our ego , and , overall , one of life’s cheapest and keenest satisfactions . (Being Wrong)

It’s curious how mightily our thoughts and beliefs defend their territory. Why is it so vital to be right? Well to begin with, if you’re not right, then you are indeed wrong, with all the accompanying sense of humiliation and failure. ***

It can hardly be overstated how important and powerful is our need/desire to be right. The extent to which we are willing to protect our rightness is frightening… from the mundane to the global…wars, genocide,  racism, not to mention the sacrifice of relationships and professions. The cost of rightness can be expensive. 

Despite our need/desire to be right, there is one incontrovertible reality, our fallibility. The greatest peril of being right is that we lose an awareness that we are fallible… that we can be wrong. Some might argue that we are aware of our fallibility.
I am unaware of anyone, who would objectively deny their human fallibility e.g. “Of course, we all make mistakes.”
However, I know a lot of people (including myself) that are adamant they are not mistaken in their rightness. Somehow our belief that we are right trumps the truth that we fallible beings. Why is that?
Coincidentally, Erwin McManus in a recent lesson offers a challenging explanation:

WE ARE STUPID!

Prov. 12: 15 Stupid people always think they are right. Wise people listen to advice. (GNT)

Wise people are really aware of how often they are wrong. Even when they are right they feel a sense of wrong.
Stupid people always think they are right. They never have to justify their actions. They never have to justify their choices because they think they’re right. If you are always right you’re not always right, you’re always stupid
.
By choosing to listen you begin to attack the stupidity in your life. 
Wise people listen to counsel. You never get so wise that you do not need advise.
Stupid people think that wise people don’t need advise. And that’s why they are stupid. Wise people need less advice and want it more. Wise people need less advice and seek it more. Stupid people need more advice and seek it less.
Here’s how to know where you fall on the spectrum of stupid or wise. If you are asking people for counsel and input in your life you are wise. If you are looking for people that agree with you, you are being stupid. Ironically, stupid people always pretend they are getting advise.

OUCH!

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Echo Chambers – Who Are We?

This is my 7th post on the subject of echo chambers. If you have not read the previous posts, I encourage you to do so. Clicking on echo chambers on the menu above will take you to the previous posts.

This post and the previous posts, have, hopefully, provided better understand of echo chambers and their influence on our society and, more specifically, our personal lives. This post is the next step toward addressing “how” questions,  a summary of my conclusions regarding echo chambers may be in order. If you have not read the previous posts. CLICK HERE to read a brief summary.


It is not my purpose, in writing these posts, to launch a movement to eliminate echo chambers. I do hope that those who read these posts will gain an awareness of echo chambers and their impact on our society. More importantly, I want readers to understand the personal implications of residing in an echo chamber. 

Do not think this is about Republican or Democrat, et al. It is not about giving up what we believe to be right. It is not about proving the other side wrong.
Relative to the negative outcomes of an echo chamber, it is ultimately irrelevant whether we are right or wrong about our cause.
Continual, unfiltered exposure to reinforcement of our rightness, will, ironically, result in unhealthy outcomes that can result in destructive consequences.  It is revealing to read comments on controversial subjects that appear in social media. There is no limit  as to how despicable comments can be. Living constantly in an echo chamber can transform us in ways that are inexplicable. The “safety” of an echo chamber is a darkness that shields us from face to face interaction and allows us to escape responsibility and grants permission  for words and conduct that we would never consider otherwise.
Consider two comments posted recently on Linkedin:

Bull@#$% comments from trolls or morons are completely useless and waist of my time to read. I am not neatral in what i am.I stand without doubt a hardcore constitutional republican ,a Master automotive technician, and above all a christian. So call me what you want i am confident in my beliefs, ideas and religion.What the naysayers have to say has ZERO EFFECT ON ME and makes no difference to anyone but the one calling names.

… we should all support each other…men ,women and others.we are all gods children.lets stop dividing ourselves into categories.men ,women, black ,white straight ,gay.lets just be one people with the same mission.being good citizens of our wonderful country.I agree that women should not put down other women nor should any group denounce other groups just to self promote or to attack others you dont agree with.Lets debate and find common ground and work together for the greater good for all.

The first comment was, obviously, in response to a subject the commenter did not agree with. The second comment came in response to an idea the commenter agreed with. The most revealing thing about these two comments is that the author of both was the same person.

I wonder which one he would say most represents who he is?

 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts & Prayers

The phrase “my thoughts & prayers go with you” has become a way of abdicating responsibility for being involved in other people’s lives and trying to heal their brokenness and meet their needs.

Erwin McManus

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A Shared Desire

I don’t want to stop exploring the mystery, delving ever deeper into possibilities that spark the imagination and spirit. I don’t want those who hear me to nod knowingly, with a banal sense of doctrinal agreement but without feeling the awesome pull of something unexplainable but real.

Chaplin Mike – internet Monk

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