This appeared late last week in my Twitter feed from HuffPost Books:
QOTD: "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking." --Haruki Murakami
I a) love this and b) agree with it, and c) the next book, whenever I find time to write it, comes at least in part from a similar sentiment. The whole online echo chamber theory, well, it echoes for me. And it's scary. The argument is that as we get more and more of our news and ideas and philosophies and opinions and information and life approaches and narratives -- stories -- from Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites where we choose our friends and choose who to follow, the range of said ideas and stories gets narrower and narrower. We are friends with people who think like we do. They are friends with people who think like they/we do. We and they are all passing back and forth the same tidbits of information, liking and retweeting and sharing the same articles and notes and opinions and stories. Plus every time we say anything, everyone we know "likes" it and tells us how lovely and clever we are, not just because they're friends but because they actually agree. Not enough new ideas can muscle in through all that familiarity.
Maybe they should call it the Narcissus Chamber. Which one of these kids looks most pleased with their own opinions and ideas?
This versus, say, you used to read the newspaper that was your town or city's paper. I grew up between Baltimore and DC and so read the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post. They got delivered to my door. In theory, the news they delivered was broad, unbiased, wide-reaching, multi-opinioned, and multi-perspectived. It was also, importantly, researched, vetted, double-checked, edited, proofread, and held to standards of truth. This is not, of course, true of my Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Social media and the internet generally are sold to us as great levelers of playing fields and democratizers of ideas and access. Once, you had to own a newspaper to get your voice and ideas heard. Now, all you need is access to a computer and an internet connection. As receivers of information though, in a lot of ways, we were doing better before. I hear more voices now, but they're all saying the same thing.
You see why that's dangerous and problematic. And disappointing given the freedom and possibilities presented by the web. And insidious given our impression that it's the opposite of what it in fact is.
And yet...last week, when President Obama came out and said he did indeed think same-sex marriage ought to be legal, my Twitter feed did a little dance, my Facebook had a party, the links my people passed on were all laudatory and celebratory and smart from a pro civil rights, pro gay marriage perspective. That's all I wanted to read, and that's all that came across my radar. Was Fox News as thrilled as my social media peeps? Was the Republican Party? I don't know. Because their opinions never crossed my computer screen. My Facebook friends are not anti-gay. My Twitter feed is liberal and loving. It was awesome.
So the question you have to ask yourself is this: is it important for me to seek out dissenting opinions? Important for my education or for being a whole person in the world? A responsible decision maker? Haven't I something to learn from the fifty percent of people in this country who seem to disagree with me about all sorts of political issues? Given that I believe that if only the gay-marriage haters would listen to something other than hate-spewing media, they'd realize the error of their ways, shouldn't I also try to break out of my online echo chamber? Or is it permissible for me and my lower blood pressure to bubble and cocoon and ignore the haters? There's enough broken, enough hate, enough that doesn't go my way in politics, enough that makes me crazy, don't my Twitter feed and I deserve to high five then go out for margaritas and celebrate the ones we win?
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.