I read an interesting essay last night about how echo chambers are like cults
. That might seem extreme, but if you develop an unshakeable faith in one set of ideas to the exclusion of all others… well, that sounds like a cult to me.
Back when Eli Pariser’s ‘The Filter Bubble
’ was doing the rounds seven years ago, I thought it was an interesting idea, but not one that would have a massive impact on the world. In 2011, mainstream media still felt like a moderating force on the more extreme parts of the internet. That common consensus of roughly how the world works would keep us on a safe path, I thought.
Not so much now. It feels like mainstream media has absorbed and endorsed echo chambers. In this newsletter, I’ve previously written about how the Daily Mail has ramped up its anger
over the years, for example. Read enough tough-worded arguments that play to your own instincts and you’ll start to get sucked into an echo chamber that discredits anything that doesn’t match your worldview.
Now, of all times, it’s dangerous to have a population with highly polarised viewpoints. On the radio over breakfast this morning, I listened to a radio debate about whether military strikes in Syria would lead to World War III. If the stakes really are raised that high, the idea of us all being polarised against each other, rather than the other side in the war, is incredibly dangerous. We’ll fight each other more than our common enemies.
And yet it’s hard to work out how we step back from where we are, how we find a common path we can generally agree on.
This isn’t Russia’s fault, it isn’t Trump’s fault, it isn’t Facebook’s fault – although they’ve all taken advantage of it. It’s a path we’ve been heading down as a planet since the internet began to transform everything so fast we didn’t have time to make sense of it all.
Sometimes the only way to clear up a mess is to go to extremes – to throw it all away and start again. It’s like those TV shows where all the junk in a hoarder’s house is cleared out and thrown in a dumpster so they can say goodbye to the past they clung onto and embrace the future. I only hope the echo chambers we increasingly lock ourselves in don’t lead us to throw the world in the dumpster.
Sorry, a little bleak there! Friday’s newsletter will be lighter!