Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber

The Internet, anymore, has this alternate universe feeling in which I am walking into a medieval courtyard or marketplace. Everyone is standing on their shop platform, yelling via their own megaphone of choice (Twitter, Facebook, blogs) in an attempt to capture your attention long enough to get you to click, purchase or add value to a vendor.

Every story we click on, video we watch or site we visit reinforces our “filter bubbles” or at least creates this echo chamber where we get more of what we like from the megaphones that have captured our attention and drew us in. It causes the other noise to fade into the background, as if limiting our view or denying us the bigger picture.  Perhaps it is time for us to invest in a wide screen.

In a recent article on Farnam Street (by Shane Parrish), “The Filter Bubble, by Eli Pariser, puts forth an argument that we’re increasingly trapped inside an algorithm that filters our news based on what it thinks is best for us. Computers and the algorithms they run are increasingly aware of the things we seem to like.” **

For example, one of my freelance writing gigs is to craft blogs about dating and relationship issues.  I may research the key ingredient for first dates and click on one or two sites. Every time I search, those sites come up FIRST. In addition, all my ads now feature sites or companies in my area that could help solve my lonely nights issue (despite the fact that last year I was researching wedding trends). A filter has been applied that shows the stories, videos or sites a computer thinks I will want to read . . . AND is predisposed to agree with.

In short, these algorithms are trying to give you the carrot that will pull you down Internet’s “rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden.” (Farnam Street)

They say what “fires together, wires together,” or the Hebbian theory (named after Donald Hebb, who introduced the theory in his 1949 book “The Organization of Behavior”).   The theory, loosely, states that repetitive experiences strengthens the connection between a set of brain cells or neurons but it is very similiar to the algorithms echo chamber effect.

Think of it as a path. The first time you push your way through the bushes between your yard and the neighbors, you can be flexible for creating the path. You are figuring your way through and making new decisions as to direction. The next time you wonder into the bushes, if you take the same way, the crossing is a bit faster for your not forcing your way through (think about website autofill  in the browser bar).  As you continue to use the same path, tracks develop which eventually create a rut. Forging a different path becomes difficult — especially when it is so easy to follow the path brilliantly laid out for you courtesy of Google.

So, how does one break away from the beaten path. Mindfulness. Be aware of what you are reading and look for the opportunity to ask why. What’s the other side? How can this be viewed differently? Create different trails. Find other yards to explore.

By asking questions, searching for answers and digging deeper, we cultivate an open mind. We ask “why” when confronted with issues, opposing thoughts or even differences. Continuous learning is a habit that stretches our minds and makes them flexible when it comes to exploring your creativity or “thinking wide.”

We are responsible for our learning, personal development. What you read, watch, comment on is within your control. Monitor your own filter bubble.

Better yet — be your own filter. Go with the wide screen format. Forge a new path.

(If you want a search engine that won’t “track you” try DuckDuckGo.com)

** The echo chamber idea is something that I already believed in. So, I do see the irony of finding a story that I agree with and sharing them in my own echo chamber with my own megaphone. Circle complete.

Resources:

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