The past month has been characterized primarily by a theoretical and conceptual approach to technology. Aside from the routine and functional daily engagement with email, social media, cloud based collaboration and presentation software, my interactions with technology have been abstracted into the realm of contemplation. Unfortunately, these ruminations have trafficked in uncertainty and wariness. Mirrored by the current developments in geo-politics, nationalism, and warfare, the reflection of social technology looks increasingly repellant.
I write this with a degree of trepidation given the context of this blog, yet I feel that trepidation is what is unfortunately an overlooked resource in the current climate of social technologies. I have purposefully framed this post with two articles from the Atlantic and The New York Times respectively. These two articles are symbolic of the consciousness with which I approach the current time and space of technological collaboration and education. One need reach no further than the results of a recent presidential election for evidence of the power of social and media technology to stoke the fires of fragmentation, mistrust, and “group-think”. The baffling results have shaken me out of my malaise of self-congratulatory consumption of these technological platforms. The article from the Times revisits the concept of “homophily”, which is a theory in sociology that people tend to form connections with others who are similar in characteristics such as socioeconomic status, values, beliefs, or attitudes (freedictionary.com). The implications of this concept for our work as citizens and educators have so many layers that a blog post could not possibly do justice. I simply wish to speak for myself when I voice my (paranoid) mistrust of the culture of subscription that seems to characterize the foundational operating structures of “collaborative social technologies”.
Sadly, the tone of this post does not reflect my deep affection and attachment to the types of 21st century technologies I am vaguely referring to here. I do believe in the power of customized and disruptive learning. I am an advocate for cloud based educational platforms to foster conversation and cooperation. All this post is meant to convey is that in my current “sea-changed” state I can no longer passively enjoy and promote them. My subscriptions to groups, feeds, communities, profiles, and channels are now a seeming reflection of the information echo-chamber that degrades human understanding.
So, how do I negotiate with this seismic shift shaking the core of my love for technology, media and information consumption? I am obviously left with more questions than proactive responses, which leads me back to the concept of trepidation. What if one was to venture out into the terrain of trepidation to seek out cross-ideological dialogue? The desire to avoid conceptual agitation, the apprehension to embrace the other’s perspective, seem actions that deny the fertile ground for the process of learning. In the last few weeks I have sought out alternatives to the feeds I am used to. Actively listening to the voices habitually kept on the peripheries. For now, this is all I will do, seek out opportunities to attend to the thoughts that disrupt the comfort of my homophily.
“No, not one shall be forgotten who was great in the world. But each was great in his own way, and each in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved.”
― Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
5 thoughts on “Echo Chambers and Empowerment”
Thanks for this. I think that you’ve hit the exact right tone here, because seeking the ‘other’ in our lives is not something we are inclined to do – and even if we do, it’s uncomfortable to have our assumptions and world view disrupted. I’ve written about this during my experience with Seth Godin’s “AltMBA”. We had to imagine change from the perspective of the other side, and I chose to write about the use of technology to leverage a shift in pedagogy and education in general. It is difficult to see the perspective of others, but ‘once you see it, you can’t unsee it.” You can read it here, and I’d love your feedback: https://alumni.altmba.com/garthnichols/what-do-you-mean-you-dont-want-to-innovate/
Thanks, and welcome to the “discomfort zone”,
You articulate so well many thoughts that have been rolling around in my mind over the past several weeks. I’ve been reading and posting articles about the need for empathy – to really attempt to understand diverse points of view. One of the reasons that I love the design thinking process so much is that it forces you to look at problems from the perspective of the “other.”
I keep asking myself what our role as educators is in all of this. How might we help them escape their echo chambers? How might we teach them to approach media with a critical and discerning eye? How might we enable them to empathize with people who have vastly different viewpoints then them? How might we push them to be informed, questioning and active digital citizens? How might we impress upon them that clicking “share” or “like” on a social media feed is not the same a civic action?….So many challenges = so many opportunities.
I look forward to seeing where you take this. Have you had this discussion with your students yet?
Thank you very much for these connections. I have started sharing these ideas with my students as we are starting our media unit. My plan is to have students address the social technologies (twitter, facebook, and comment sections for news media) in order to begin to examine the role these play in the above concepts. It’s seems small but, it’s a first step 🙂
I very much share your cautiously optimistic sentiments towards technology here, Jordan. I don’t think we would have such terms as “critical thinking” without first having had almost 75 years of Critical Theory (Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, et al) in which a skepticism towards the very mechanisms of communication we are now currently immersed in were not only appropriate, but necessary in a post-totalitarian world. A world, I hope, we are not entering back into.
At the same time, I do love opportunities such as this, to hear different perspectives and remind myself that I am not alone. The “echo-chamber” of technology may be a small price to pay for marginalized voice to finally be heard.
Having taught media for almost 10 years in Australia, I developed two ways in which to resolve these contradictory issues, one in my personal life, the other in my professional one.
Personal: Like yourself, I try my best to read, listen to and understand different perspectives. On my Facebook page I have consciously “Liked” news agencies I may not ideologically agree with, in order to create a more balanced feed. It doesn’t always work, but in some small measure I’m trying to battle that damned algorithm in the cloud.
Professional: I have recently begun teaching my Grade 12 English students the C.R.A.A.P. test, which is a method of ensuring your internet research is credible, varied, current and informative. In short, teaching DISCERNMENT seems to be one of the most vital of “soft-skills” in the 21st century.
Check out these links:
I know this technique is being taught at McMaster and Waterloo University, especially for first year students. My Grade 12’s found it a very helpful step towards navigating the internet, and getting away from Wikipedia.
I hope this gives you some peace of mind!
Eric, I am greatly appreciative of this response and engagement with my post. I will definitely be checking those sites as I venture deeper into the media unit here at Branksome. These “soft-skills” are actually shaping my entire approach to the unit. Thanks again for all the great resources, I’d love to chat further at the next CH21 sesh. Until then…
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