Back-patting and reinforcement-guided media consumption hurts more than it helps.
It’s normal to be drawn to like-minded individuals and to search for spaces that augment one’s own opinions. It’s natural to bend towards commonality and away from conflict—it’s innate. It’s far easier to ping pong around our respective bubbles without ever venturing beyond their translucent parameters. This approach all but ensures one’s direct reality will stay delusionally rosy and devoid of any interference. While it might make us feel good, this form of opinion-boosting as it were, really only serves to narrow our scope of influence thereby handicapping our ability to think objectively.
Burrowing down gets us nowhere.
We have to think wider. And the practice of broadening our field of vision goes beyond direct media consumption: we have to interact. The approach needs to be dynamic. It’s very tempting to unfollow certain people on social media, and to build structures of influence that reflect our own beliefs back onto us—but don’t be so quick to silence the opposition. I’m not saying never do it; sometimes we have to for the sake of sanity, but try to limit the practice. Try to have the conversation; try to see the other side. Our country has grown increasingly more partisan over the last few decades due to a myriad of factors, but we do not have to be complicit in our nation’s fracturing. Lines have been drawn, centrists have fallen and its time for something new to rise before gaps turn to chasms.
Just to be clear: this is not meant, in any way, to advocate for complacency or to assert that there are not clear-cut lines between right and wrong. We need to stand up for what we believe in and fight with every civic muscle in our souls to combat injustice. This is not an appeal for meekness, or a call for compromise above principles or a plea to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt, or some banal, sunshine-soaked Kumbaya moment of faux togetherness; this is a call for aggressive awareness.
We need to read more. We need to think more, research more, be more proactive.
We’ve reached a point where so many of us (myself included at times) would rather immediately dismiss a contradictory opinion rather than take the time to converse. Finding a fertile middle ground is never easy, but much of the time we don’t even bother to try and get there. We have to be vigilant in our pursuit of truth and understanding.
Social media and search engine algorithms are working against us here. As they learn our preferences, they generate results based on what we are most likely to respond to. This only bolsters the reverberative properties of our of respective chambers. And this means it’s really up to us to be active, present and discerning at all times. We have to fight against the automated compartmentalization that dictates what we see and what we don’t see—we can’t let ourselves be digitally pigeonholed.
This means not only branching out but really diving into the information we receive to determine its validity. The prevalence of fake news sites and their role in this election cannot be overstated. Please, do your research. NPRs On the Media put out a handy guide to recognizing fake news sites:
courtesy of OnTheMedia.org
This is a huge part of collapsing the echo chamber. The approach should be simple: find substantive work that attempts to speak truth to power. If facts are lazily stated and not backed up and linked with supplementary material, there’s a good chance they aren’t facts. Politifact has studied political memes shared on Facebook since 2007 and found that only 20% were true. When they analyzed political chain emails they found that only 3% were true. So if you’re not too dexterous with a computer and researching the validity of a meme or email chain letter’s claims seems far too arduous a task, err on the side of data and simply just assume all of them are untrue.
When we stop being curious and discerning and start scouring the digisphere for reinforcement, we’ve surrendered our spirit—we’ve given up.
We should spend as much time searching for articles that refute our opinions as we do ones than bolster them. Not only will it help us bridge gaps, but it enables us to round out our understanding.
And who knows, there’s always that slim chance of a bit of empathy creeping in.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.