Echo chambers are dangerous, not just for the individual, but for society at large.
For those who don’t know what an echo chamber is, it’s an environment where someone hears and engages with things they already believe or agree with. When people enter their echo chambers, they block out voices that disagree with them.
No new ideas are heard; it’s just the same thing over and over again.
While the echo chamber has been around for a long time, I think we have reached a new version, what I call the “super-chamber.” The major difference is that, in the traditional chamber, at some point or another people would have to respond.
Either at the bar or in church, someone else will speak up and challenge the prevailing viewpoint. But now, with social media, people never have to leave.
When we want to learn something about politics, where do many people go? Facebook. And the thing about Facebook is that it tells you what you want to hear. So liberals will only see liberal opinions. Conservatives will only see conservative opinions. This effect has, in many ways, changed our society, including our elections.
Of course, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon: people tend to like things they agree with, that’s only human. But now that’s the only thing we see.
It only gets worse. The super-chamber creates a positive feedback loops, where people are drawn more and more to the extreme ends of their respective camps. And the more extreme one becomes, the more the other side appears as evil. No wonder the partisan gap has grown in this country.
When massive groups, collectively, exist in echo chambers, our society takes a toll. Ideologies become entrenched, outsiders look like enemies and neighbors look like ideological invaders who need to be expelled. We have to live together, and this toxic way of debating is no way to have healthy relationships.
How should we combat this change?
I think we need to close our laptops, turn off our phones and deliberately meet people we disagree with. It’s easy to have a grudge match on Facebook. Leaving a clever comment might win some points, but they usually just alienate the other side, furthering the divide. Sitting down from someone has a tendency to keep things civil.
Opponents are no longer a profile picture: they’re human beings with families and lives, and they demand a certain degree of respect. When the debate – or conversation – does become heated, take time to actually listen to the other point of view. Listen to hear, not to react.
Try to understand where they’re coming from. Avoid labels — ad hominems get us nowhere.
Personally, some of my best friends are the polar opposite politically. A good friend of mine of almost eight years now is a self-described socialist from Pennsylvania, something I most certainly am not.
We get into it from time to time, but we always come out understanding a little more and we did before.