Information echo chamber? Yes, please!
Ran into a few pieces in the last few days saying that people on the Internet live in an information echo chamber. You know, search engines and social networks trying too hard to serve you content you’ll hopefully consume with attention and satisfaction. The articles I read kinda suggested that reinforcing those existing opinions and biases in people was detrimental to productive discussions and having an open mind and hearing the other side out and what not.
They’re not wrong all the way. Many people need to have open minds and hear the other side out.
It’s just that other people don’t. Because they’re in the information echo chamber. Not in the misinformation one.
That’s right. People don’t need to leave the information echo chamber; they need to get into it. What they need to leave is the misinformation chamber.
There can be only one truth on a matter. It’s elusive, hard to find in the sea of ignorance, it’s an expensive luxury in terms of time, effort and even money sometimes. But there’s only one truth. Opinions, on the other hand, usually come in quantities greater than one, much greater. Every opinion has a purpose to convert as many followers as it can to its cause. Every one of them tries to offer a version somehow related to the one truth about the subject, usually that version being profitable for a person or an entity. A maximum of one opinion can be exactly aligned with the truth, the others can only be ranked on a scale of how close they are to the truth. Sadly, most of the available opinions around are far from the truth.
In the glorious quest searching for the one and only truth, it is inevitable to run into an army of wrong opinions. When not knowing the truth, there are basically two kinds of opinions, ones that bring you closer to the truth, and ones that distance you, but you can only know which ones are which after the truth has been discovered.
How is the truth discovered? Science. Experiment. Measure. You know, things nerds tend to do. Their efforts don’t always lead straight to the truth, but they tend to point in the generally correct-ish direction. They might have had opinions before trying to solve or prove something, but when they use the scientific method to arrive at a conclusion, the results of their work transcends the opinion stage and becomes data. When data grows up and is legally permitted to drink and still decides to remain a productive citizen, it becomes information, the thing we build our echo chambers with. When data goes astray and turns to a pursuit of profit, it becomes misinformation. That is also used to build echo chambers, except that sceptical people usually don’t end up in them.
I like my information chamber. True, it is full of pieces of information that don’t mess with my reality too much. Arriving at an absolute truth happens slowly and incrementally, but it happens. How I know? Because I trust the nerds above everyone else. Some of them might be corrupt and try to present data as misinformation, but usually they’re too worried about the truth to do that. Also, nerds have huge egos, and their egos are fed by getting closer to the truth. Too much is at stake for many of them to sell truth for profit. The good thing about nerds is that they usually start within a framework of information some other nerds have proven before them. They build knowledge on previous knowledge.
There’s a dirty little trick I use, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I face new information and can’t be bothered to verify it myself, I search for what the scientific consensus on the matter is. Say you work on three projects and barely have time to eat, and suddenly your friend suggests you go and visit a fortune-teller and seek her advice on how to run your business. You’re too busy to device an experiment and gather data which could prove that fortune-telling is some charlatan ass bullshit, so you look for the scientific consensus on it and let research from across centuries to persuade you that fortune-telling is indeed bullshit. Crazy, right?
The things I disagree with do make me think harder and check my facts and reconsider what I thought I knew, but they’re usually close to the thing I considered to be the best available information before I ran into the seemingly conflicting piece of information. It still hurts when it happens, but occasionally I have to admit I had bad intel and re-index my knowledge base. But massive revelations rarely happen. The last big one was probably having to accept that general relativity can’t explain the behaviour of quantum particles. It was bloody and dirty, but too many nerds have proven it.
When I decide to leave the comfort of my information chamber, weird things seem to happen. People believe that horoscope is literally true and design their personal relationships around it. Other people think a dude lived inside a whale. Of course, we have to mention the crowd that believes politicians can be trusted, or their home wouldn’t obey feng shui unless all of their products were Apple, or that some exercises can target and burn just belly fat. Some even believe that Donald Trump is a sane and responsible person and nothing bad would come out of putting him in charge of the most powerful military force in world history and providing him access to nuclear weapons. The wilderness outside my information echo chamber is a jungle filled with disease, wild predators, some guerrilla insurgents, and the native tribes worship Kanye West as their god and make golden idols re-enacting him stealing people’s recording devices. Why would I ever visit such a place, except to gather material for funny articles?
The people that need to leave their “information” chambers the most are the least likely to do so, because they don’t work with information at all. Their primary tool of making sense of the world is emotion. Emotion used to be a useful tool back in the day. Humans didn’t have time to measure the danger coefficient of the tiger, so trusting their fear proved to be better suited for survival than trusting their curiosity. Today humans and tigers seldom if ever meet. Many people go entire lives without ever running into a tiger. The mechanism for dealing with the tiger is still present and dominant though. People aware of this fact use it to manipulate people not aware of it. While people in the information chamber got there by questioning things and carefully deciding on what to believe, people in the misinformation chamber got there by “trusting their gut”, by “following their heart”, by “letting go and allowing the moment to consume them” and similar.
Try telling those people to leave their echo chambers, I think I’ll stay in mine.