Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Life in the Echo Chamber

You folks will have to excuse me if this article sounds like a rant, and I suppose it is. But please bear with me. This is a criticism directed at the online community. Namely the online 'echo-chamber' that many of us live in. This loosely refers to the process by which the sheer mass of material available on the internet allows us to be highly selective in the information we consume.  Therefore forming tacit online comfort zones. It is the nature of the enthusiasts of the 'internet reformation' to stress the use of the web as an open forum for ideas. Evidently this is true, there is more information online at this moment in time than any one person could consume in a life time. However this easy access to information is having a pernicious effect on our political discourse. 
        For example i'm sure that anybody reading this article will not need to be reminded that the comments section on a YouTube video are not likely to be a place of intense philosophical enlightenment. It stands to reason that we shouldn't expect every comment or blog post to be a revelation, nor do I advocate any sort of quality control over the internet. However I can't help be slightly disheartened when I see people who I presume to be adults descend into vicious grandstanding rather than intelligent discussion.

Ultimately the reason I'm writing this article is because certain sections of what are supposed to my own ideological community seem so hopelessly inept at arguing the case for freedom. I believe this is a fact that can be directly attributed to the 'echo-chamber'. Arguably when an someone gets the lions share of their news from the same source, they are inevitably going to have weak arguments for their positions. It can be assumed that when an individual doesn't challenge their own assumptions their arguments are likely to be less than convincing. This trend isn't restricted to the freedom movement but extends around the ideological spectrum and into the political mainstream. Weather it's one newspaper, one news website or a similar group of digital sources being in an environment where everybody agrees with you or reinforces your opinion means those individuals are going to struggle when their positions are brought into dispute.

Though some may suggest that because they know they are right in there opinions, there is no need to call them into question. I can understand this view, why traipse through a deep metaphysical swamp simply to arrive at the same conclusion you reached before you entered? Any cursory assessment of online activism reveals the reason. Unconvincing arguments,exhausted themes and appalling syntax are some symptoms of the echo-chamber.  I often read an article or book and end up slightly disheartened by it's lack of any discernible  insight. It is often striking to me how easy an article or book could be improved if the author had spent more time entertain opinions that run counter to their argument. 

       Yet perhaps this is just me being picky and anyway, why should anyone feel compelled to conduct themselves like an eighteenth century philosopher online? In reality I would argue that simply taking a step out of our comport zone every once in a while would suffice to broaden our perspective. As for established academics of all political stripes, they must surely be aware of the drivel that exists out there in cyberspace and owe it to their profession not to contribute to it.