The Echo Chamber

Each of us has a unique perspective from which we view the events that color our lives. During my lifetime, technology has geometrically increased the volume of imagery, events, and opinions in media that are available to our individual fields of view. When I was a boy, and for generations prior to that, interpretive reporting was only available in printed media, which was only presented periodically and required a significant level of literacy on the part of the reader, as well as a time and place to settle down with a book, monthly magazine or daily newspaper. There was zero, immediate information gratification.

The number of newspapers available to citizens in the Fifties depended upon the size of the closest metropolitan area. For instance, living in or near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, meant that readers had access to two daily newspapers, which were published by the same company. Today, the number of media sources available regardless of one’s location, coupled with the propensity for facts to be obscured by interpretive reporting in the mainstream media and by personal opinion dissemination in social media (which includes blogging), decreases the probability that an average citizen has the time or intellectual capacity to obtain a “fair and balanced” understanding of his or her world.

(Evidence of the preeminence of  interpretive reporting can be obtained by counting the number of emotionally-charged adjectives used by breathless news anchors and reporters in any contemporary news report [or by bloggers!]; compare your findings with the paucity of such adjectives used by Edward R. Murrow in his description of the London Blitz, an experience arguably more emotionally-charged than the “shocking revelation of improperly dated baby formula—news at eleven!”)

In 1996, Fox News addressed the increasing din of interpretive reporting—which was believed by Roger Ailes to have a Liberal bias—by creating a media source that reported “the news” with a Conservative bias. It is probable that the underlying motivation of the News Corporation was profit and not ideology, but the success of Fox News in growing its market share inspired other major media outlets to focus on interpretive reporting based upon ideological biases. Rather than providing the opportunity for citizens to become more enlightened and objective, the business plan birthed by Fox News has had the opposite effect on Americans. The diverse and combative social and mainstream media outlets of today accentuate biases and narrow our individual perspectives, with the result that what Fox News initiated, and other outlets have emulated, has polarized America.

…Shanto Iyengar, a political science professor at Stanford, said it’s just part of a pervasive echo-chamber effect. “People like to avoid dissonant messages,” he said. “If we believe X, we don’t want to encounter information that is not X.” Now, with so many choices of where to get information, consumers can pick what they want to watch. (How Fox News changed the face of journalism)

Consumers’ collective validation of different sources of interpretive reporting, which includes social media, has caused an explosion of opinions from which we identify and choose those that are harmonious with our personal positions: our personal “X”. In our echo chambers, opposing views are maligned in order to justify the “X” upon which the echo chamber is focused. By extension, the purveyors of views in opposition to “X” are vilified and positioned as existential threats. They become our visceral enemies—the evil “other”—because, I suggest, we acquiesce to our default and instinctive primate characteristic of tribalism (see Gombe Chimpanzee War), which over the millennia of Human Civilization has periodically and successfully overcome nobler aims.

Although my blog is unapologetically located in a Progressive echo chamber, writing posts provides me with the incentive to investigate issues in Education using the enemy of the echo chamber: the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment, i.e., critical thinking. Doing so has required that I enter echo chambers that challenge my Progressive biases with the hope that my posts will be useful to like-minded readers in gaining insights into the “Xs” being espoused in contrary echo chambers. For example, What MAGA Means is planned as the next post.

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