• Naomi Head

The Danger Of Echo Chambers

Originally written August 2020

The internet has created information vacuums, we need to break them now more than ever to find a common ground

Photo credit: Nsey Benajah/Unsplash

We currently exist in information vacuums. It’s easier to scroll by and scoff at opinions that don’t match ours instead of engaging. And let’s be fair, our current world leaders aren’t shining examples in the art of nuanced discourse.

Let’s drop an unsolicited truth, being out of touch or denying different opinions is as dangerous as being misinformed.

The Age Of The Ideological Echo Chamber

Humans are tribal beings. We like to be where it’s safe, and where is safer than in the village around the campfire? The shadows are less scary in the light and the unknown isn’t terrifying when you’re surrounded by others.

Nowadays, our campfires are screens – handheld, wall-mounted, curbside, or in our pockets. We’re still drawn to the light, lured in by the stories that tell us we belong here. We don’t want to be alone and we don’t want to be cast out.

The modern village is so much more than memes, social media challenges and grassroots movements. We find our news, culture, education and relationships online. It’s where we connect with each other.

In the villages of old, disagreements were settled in person and moderated by our peers or elders. The collective came before the individual and we had to work together to find solutions that would benefit the group. The internet has removed these structures and responsibilities. We can easily ignore everyone we disagree with, and instead surround ourselves with likeminded people. Technology allows us the luxury of meticulously curating our social narratives to align with our individual view of the world.

As a result, our digital villages affirm that we are just, we are good and we are right. There’s no room for outsiders and, eventually, all we can hear is the echo of one story – our chosen story. But ours is not the only campfire in the wilderness. So, why are we so afraid to step out of our ideological comfort zones?

The easy answer is we are afraid to question the village because it would also mean questioning ourselves. The stories and people we surround ourselves with say more about us than we think. They are the lens through which we see the world.

Challenging the long-standing opinions of our echo chambers unbalances our fragile existence and sense of self. We are unwilling to destroy the perfectly crafted stories we uphold. No one wants to look in the mirror and be unrecognisable to themselves.

There is a reluctance to let go of our preferred social narratives and keep learning, this is why viral social movements are so powerful – they tell us stories we haven’t heard (or acknowledged) before.

The Transformation Of Our Social Conscience

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer has drowned out the buzz of our old echo chambers with one united voice shattering the grand illusion of a post-racial society. Instead the movement calls out our collective denial and demands our acknowledgment of the work we still need to do to dismantle systems of oppression.

It hasn’t been easy to open up to the pain and suffering of others – especially as many of us haven’t had to struggle through life judged on one facet of our identity – but transformation is not easy. The transformation of a social conscience shouldn’t be easy. There has been loss and conflict, but the pain of change and pursuit of an inclusive and representative truth is necessary if we hope to see positive results.

Slacktivism is a cute but misleading term covering up the laziest attempts at supporting civil rights movements. Whether it’s the mass posting of black squares or the more recent black and white photo there are so many ways we let ourselves off the hook when it comes to activism or being ‘woke’. It’s our hero complex in action and it’s arguably more dangerous than engaging with opposing opinions.

Social Media Activism Is Our Hero Complex in Action

There is nothing heroic about glossing over real danger and pain in favour of meaningless gestures. By choosing these self-serving actions – co-opted to placate our guilty consciences – we give our opposition more power than actually holding discussions or debates. We must delve deeper, listen to the stories behind the hashtags and share them with our tribe. It is through open discourse that we create genuine human connection and reach mutual understanding to establish a base on which we can build something better.

To take time before acting requires a certain kind of curiosity and open-mindedness we have moved away from, but our isolating narratives won’t help us stop those injustices that hold some people back and elevate others.

Engaging with opposing opinions doesn’t give them power. Denying they exist and ignoring them does. Conflict is change by another name, we shouldn’t fear talking with each other, we should embrace it and let people be seen and heard. This is acceptance and belonging, this is the safety of the village. Only then can we ask what makes your story more valuable than another.

Actively challenging your own bias is exhausting. Transformation is exhausting. Creating something better is exhausting, but it’s time to make space at the fire side.

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