When collecting information on a topic, gathering views, or simply seeking out opinions from your peers and colleagues that challenge your beliefs and bias. If the data you are seeing only reflects your own viewpoint, which is repeated time after time without opposing concepts allowed to breakthrough. You may find yourself in an echo chamber.
The echo chamber has been used widely to describe social media and other interactive platforms online. In which users are often guilty of creating or only sharing content that perpetuates their own viewpoints and that data is consumed by like-minded individuals.
The term can also be used to describe the algorithms of various websites such as Amazon, Google, YouTube and Facebook. Which tend to show us content which is related to items that we have previously engaged with. Meaning that we rarely see the information that challenges our beliefs and ensures that we continue to engage with one-sided media.
Social echo chambers
But echo chambers aren’t only to be found online. Although there are certainly more places on the internet that are susceptible to hosting an echo chamber.
They can be found anywhere where information is exchanged. Whether it’s your home, your workplace, with the people that you interact with daily. You are in danger of having your perspective distorted. Making it difficult to label misinformation and challenge difficult ideas.
If you think about it, you are probably more likely to find yourself in an offline echo chamber, then an online one.
Take a moment to reflect on the people that you interact with on a daily basis. Do these people challenge your ideas and promote new ones? Or do they uphold your views and reaffirm existing ideals?
Echo chambers in part are fuelled by our own confirmation bias.
Wikipedia defines this as:
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one’s prior personal beliefs or hypotheses.Source
Using the above definition. We can see why echo chambers are numerous and easy to fall into. Receiving validation of an idea or viewpoint that we already have is reassuring. We all like to be on the receiving end of a pat on the back for doing or thinking the right thing.
Plus there is that sweet rush of Dopamine (the pleasure hormone) which may get released when we encounter information that confirms our already held beliefs. Even if they are completely wrong.
Are echo chambers bad?
Only seeing or hearing things that we agree with? What’s wrong with that?
Well, quite a lot. Echo chambers are bad for opposing ideas, the general debate as well as our own personal growth.
Being consistently bombarded with our own views, ideas and opinions. It is almost impossible for us to obtain new theories, see opposing view points and come to new and broader conclusions.
However, I think some echo chambers can certainly help us if engaged in the right way. Certain online forums for instance that are dedicated to a particular subject. While they certainly only allow for a limited range of discussion topics and discourage off-topic subjects. This can certainly be an advantage to say a forum dedicated to discussing football.
Having to navigate around topics that you aren’t interested in to find those that do. Would be annoying.
Dangers of the echo chamber
Do you know how many websites there are? Songs that are on Spotify or awesome open source projects there are?
If we look at the number of websites for example. Accoording to internetlivestats.com, as of writing there are 1,762,380,277.
How many do you visit in the course of a month?
Being in an echo chamber not only affects our growth by limiting our perspectives and promoting views that are limited to what we agree with. But it also limits our behaviours and discourages us from doing things that we are familiar with.
Whether it’s using a limited number of tools on a daily basis. Or not even considering other options that are open to us. Relying on the well-worn path of the familiar and reliable. Causes us to not venture outside our comfort zone and instead become creatures of habit.
How to avoid the echo chamber
The thing that I’ve found out about echo chambers is that some people like the security associated with them. They like the fact that everyone agrees with their views and their opinions go unchallenged.
But like I mentioned above. While echo chambers might be useful in some situations. They are generally dangerous to our personal growth. As well as the development of the people that we interact with.
If you are building a project team for example. You don’t want a team of yes men who are only going to regurgitate your ideas back at you.
Instead, you want to create an environment that welcomes new ideas to be generated, passed around and debated without fear of being silenced.
If you are leading a team at work. You also need to be aware that you aren’t participating in your managers echo chamber. Perpetuating their ideas, actions and distorted perspective.
Feedback is king
Above all. If you feel you might be contributing to, or are stuck in an echo chamber at work. Be open to receiving and giving feedback. If it doesn’t line-up with your own internal ideas or viewpoint. Take it as a sign you might have steered off your intended pathway.
We all have our own biases and are naturally drawn towards people that share our same values and opinions. There is nothing wrong with that. But when our biases influence the decisions we make or the thoughts that we have on a continual basis. That’s when it becomes a problem.
If you would like to see an excellent TED Talk on this subject. I recommend taking ten minutes to view this one by Adam Greenwood.