Are You In Your Own Echo Chamber?

"If you disagree with me on this, consider yourself unfriended."  

How many times have you read or said this?  Let's deconstruct the sentence, because it has a lot of parts to it.  First, I feel really strong about this.  Second, if you are on the other side of this argument, that makes you so abhorrent that I don't want to have anything to do with you.  Third, I will take action to follow through on that desire, by cutting you off from my social network.

I support the first statement.  The second statement, I get the sentiment behind it, and I can even applaud it a little.  Except that if it then leads to the third statement, then we have a problem.

And what is the problem?  You've just entered your own echo chamber.  You already feel strongly about an issue.  You've now put out there that anyone who feels otherwise is no longer inside your tent.  What results is that those you disagree with are pushed further away, and you are even further surrounded by data points that strengthen what you already believe.

Maybe this is right, because what you believe is right and that you believe it with all your heart is right.  But maybe this is dangerous to your ability to be an informed and open-minded participant in history's most pluralistic society, which is modern-day America.

And maybe this is what I fear about modern-day America, is that we are not only becoming more divisive (which, all else equal, is fine, because pluralism by definition means lots of different opinions, and sometimes those differences of opinions lead to disagreement and strife) but we are holing ourselves up into stronger and stronger echo chambers, further reinforcing our own beliefs and vilifying the very opponents whose arguments might sharpen us.  (Recall that this is how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt about her fellow jurist Antonin Scalia.)

This is one of the conclusions arrived at by Wael Ghonim, who launched the Tahrir Square revolution in Egypt in 2011 using social media but is now more skeptical of the Internet's ability to foster real change, at least in his current form.  Here are some snippets from a recent article profiling him: "We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else...our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other."

This cannot be, if we want to be the America that I think is unique in the world and in history, which is a place of incredible diversity of perspectives and opinions, bound together by a mutual respect for one another and for freedom of thought/speech/expression.  Do you want the same America?  Think about this the next time you're tempted to threaten to cut off someone from your social network for not believing what you believe.  You might just find that in cutting them off, you are cutting off your own ability to be an open-minded participant in the world's greatest experiment in pluralism.
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