February 11, 2004

More on Echo Chambers

Previously I talked about this, in reference to an LATimes article the other day. Dave Weinberger and I had a nice chat about that and he made a very good point, which is that echo chambers happen both online and off, that they are actually a very good thing in that they are actually like minded communities figuring out what issues are important to them, what logic works for advancing the cause, and who can do what to make it happen. I agree, and it's why I said below that there is some good and some bad in this kind of thing. It's similar to building your own newspaper, to the extent that you don't know what's going on in the world that the rest of the people you know are talking about. The result of this is being left out of the proverbial watercooler conversation. In the same way, being too insular in an echo chamber (aka community) will result in the bad effects, but using community building is also a positive thing.

I don't think we can dismiss the value of them, because they are insular too. And I don't think we can blame what happened with Dean on the echo chamber effect. The way the campaign used the internet was exciting and interesting, and it will be a value add to campaigns and political activity in future. It is a tremendous asset. But Dean, I think failed for other reasons, maybe because while he appeals as an outsider, he's also an outsider perhaps when it comes to voting verses blogging or donating, people went for the guy who can work Washington, a political heavy, who may be perceived as having a better chance at beating Bush. Don't know, but in any event, I don't think the internet was so much the cause of the failure here, but other factors that may have been obscured by how exciting it was for those folks to organize and communicate in this new way.

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 11, 2004 11:52 PM | TrackBack

I see two problems with echo chambers. The first is the obvious one, that by restricting your sources of input only to views that you agree with, you are less likely to be exposed to all sides of an issue, hence you are more likely to be wrong. Echo chambers lead you away from the truth. So, what is your goal? Is it the truth, or is it socializing? Groupthink is bad for the first but good for the second.

The second problem is the treatment of dissenters. Too often the self-reinforcing views of a like-minded circle require harsh suppression of those who disagree. This is a social phenomenon which reinforces the distinction between the in-group and the outsiders. It may also be necessary because the consensus views are relatively brittle (see problem one above) and won't stand up to real criticism, hence ad hominems and other rhetoric must be brought to bear to quash dissent.

Posted by: Cypherpunk at February 12, 2004 11:36 PM