I used to believe social media was a good thing, it could bring together families with significant distance between them and unite like minded people. In the last 2 years, I’ve changed my mind… Social media is an echo chamber affirming our beliefs and allowing us to force anyone with a different belief away from us and this is very bad.
For example if you believe the Earth is flat, you can discover other people who believe the same thing and ideas are generated by discussion so during your discussions of the Earth being flat who knows what great ideas might be generated. Yet we have taken this to the extreme and if you believe the Earth is flat, discussions within the group reinforce that belief, but we have begun excluding all other information. And as someone who doesn’t believe the Earth is flat, if I ask for the details that inform your belief that the Earth is flat it becomes viewed as a personal attack, not a request for information. Eventually, the person who believes the Earth is flat fills their friends list with like minded individuals to the exclusion of everyone else creating an echo chamber for their personal beliefs and history has shown us this is a dangerous thing.
I don’t know when it was decided being exposed to different beliefs was a bad thing, but social media has determined it so. But the best ideas come from exposure to other beliefs and ideas, because people have different experiences and different ways to view things. For example, I don’t believe aliens built the Great Pyramid at Giza, but I understand why some people do. It is an engineering feat, particularly for a society that supposedly hadn’t invented the wheel yet. I feel conventional wisdom is incorrect and we have underestimated our Egyptian ancestors… but I can definitely see why someone looking at the available data would decide the pyramid must have been built by aliens, which stimulates me to think the Egyptians had carts with wheels on them for moving those massive stone blocks and we just don’t have evidence of it because the wheel is not exactly a thing of greatness like a pyramid and so it wasn’t significant enough to be written about and we need to continue to do research on this matter. Or hell, as ridiculous as it seems maybe it was aliens, we will only know by continuing to learn about it.
By shouting into our echo chambers, we shut down our ability to learn, because our ideas are always being parroted back to us which requires no thinking on our parts. Yesterday I read a news article about round worm infections increasing in both frequency and intensity. Uh, that’s weird. We know how to prevent round worms and it’s a basic hygiene thing, so why would they be making a comeback? I also read about a hepatitis infection that is leaving children with damaged livers, the suspected cause is an adenovirus. Wait, adenoviruses are not rare… they are one of the viruses responsible for the “common cold,” definitely prolific. Why has this particular adenovirus mutated to cause liver damage (and in some cases failure) in children? Or have we done something to our immune systems to make them less effective against adenoviruses? And as a 41 year old woman who has experienced the immune system damage caused by the measles virus, my perspective is slightly different than the 41 year old woman who has never had measles because they were successfully vaccinated against it, because my thought upon reading it was “is there another virus we haven’t identified damaging the immune systems of children that then makes adenoviruses more dangerous?” Could a rhinovirus (another virus responsible for the “common cold”) have mutated in such a way that it doesn’t just cause the common cold but also compromises the immune system in some children that makes it more likely that a later adenovirus could then cause liver damage or failure? I admit this scenario is unlikely, but as someone who understands a virus can cause lifelong damage to the immune system, it’s one of the things I think about when I hear a virus has become more dangerous. The chances are someone without the personal experience, would consider a secondary virus might actually be the problem and not the adenovirus.
However, if you are shouting into your echo chamber (and ignoring me because we disagree on something like the Earth being flat), you will not be exposed to my ideas, and my ideas though contrary to yours might stimulate an idea that changes the world. Furthermore, if I’m only listening to people who agree with me, then I may miss something that is life altering. I’ll provide a more “down to Earth” scenario; someone in my life believes chronic pain is caused by demonic possession and has asked me if I would be willing to undergo an exorcism to try to cure CRPS. I do not believe in demons and by extension demonic possession. But if I did… an exorcism to alleviate my pain would be an idea worth exploring because even if I am not possessed by demonic forces, the placebo effect could result in exorcism curing my chronic pain. I have been researching whether the placebo effect works in non-believers because if it does, than an exorcism to treat my CRPS could be worth it. However, if I ignored everyone who had beliefs contrary to my own, I would not even know about the possibility that an exorcism may alleviate my pain, even though I have read a great deal about the placebo effect.
I think we should all evaluate our social media circles and see if we are shouting into our own echo chambers and preventing us from seeing the forest for the trees.