If you find yourself on Facebook randomly skimming articles, opinions, and “memes” related to the many social, political, economic, or geopolitical topics, you’re not alone. These topics dominate the content we’ve been consuming over the last few years, both in real-life conversation and on the internet. It’s hard to ignore.
How many times have you found yourself either nodding in agreement or furiously shaking your head in frustration with what’s being said on networks like CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News?
Do you then choose to follow one network over the other?
Studies show you choose to get entertainment and information from sources that provide content that aligns with ideas or thoughts you already have. And that you choose to ignore those sources that don’t. Which would put you in an echo chamber.
What is an echo chamber?
Many people exist in a metaphorical echo chamber — a place where your beliefs are echoed back to you through communication and repetition inside a closed system. In an echo chamber, people seek and find information that reinforces their existing views.
This can and does increase political and social polarization and extremism. Echo chambers increase passionate discussion about topics impacting our society, but they can also stop you from engaging with people who see things differently than you. That passionate discussion is suddenly one-sided.
In 1996, MIT researchers Marshall Van Alstyne and Erik Brynjolfsson warned about the dark side of our newly connected world. “Individuals empowered to screen out material that does not conform to their existing preferences may form virtual cliques, insulate themselves from opposing points of view, and reinforce their biases. Internet users can seek out interactions with like-minded individuals who have similar values, and thus become less likely to trust important decisions to people whose values differ from their own.”
Alstyne and Brynjolfsson also warned that the loss of shared experiences and values could harm the structure of democratic societies and decentralized organizations.
To gain a more complete understanding of yourself and your values, you need to constructively challenge your thoughts and ideas. This doesn’t happen inside an echo chamber.
The detriment of the echo chamber
One of the most damning qualities of the echo chamber in 2018 is the lack of or use of filters to discern information. One Forbes contributor recently wrote: “To make sure we are ingesting truth, and not propaganda with a strong political slant, it is important for everyone to independently verify information gathered through social media and many news sources with a known political persuasion before presenting it to others as fact. Unfortunately, few people do this research.”
Who ensures the accuracy of the information floating around in the echo chamber? Often, we forget to do this and believe that hearing the same thing over and over again makes it accurate. Talking to people with the same ideas consistently may increase discussion about current events, but it doesn’t increase our complete understanding. Which is why we need to get out of our echo chamber and seek out diversity.
The power of diversity of thought
When most people think of diversity, they think of race, gender, ethnicity, creed, culture. Few of us take into consideration diversity of thought and experiences.
For example, imagine you’re with two 40-year-old men who grew up in middle-class households and both went to college. The only difference between the two is that one is from New York and the other is from Utah. But, despite being from similar backgrounds, these two men have a certain level of diversity because they have a different frame of reference.
Differences in culture, background, and even our personalities tend to shape how we view the world and approach tasks. When we have diversity of thought, we guard against groupthink and develop a more holistic understanding of the topic or tasks at hand.
So step out of your echo chambers, converse with people from various backgrounds, and learn more about yourself and others as you foster a more informed worldview!