Echo Chambers


Our social networks are like gaming consoles, and these Big Deal News Stories are like the massive multiplayer online games we play on them; but instead of just playing the game and getting on with our lives, we carry the volatile emotions from our virtual experiences into our offline worlds—worlds that may or may not mirror1 the reality presented in the ‘game.’

Big Deal News Stories triangulate us; we’re aware of them and we’re also aware that those around us are aware of them. This creates a tension that media outlets—hungry for eyeballs, hits and clicks—exploit by frantically tossing other (oftentimes tenuously) related stories at us knowing we will most definitely bite.

Suddenly we’re swamped with information, but instead of carefully combing through it we respond to the first blood-soaked bits that trickle down our newsfeeds. We even pick our ‘sides’ based on this cursory information and dig our feet in so deep that it doesn’t matter if we’re later presented with information that contradicts the initial information; we’ll just stubbornly twist an’ turn it to fit our viewpoint or indignantly deny it nose-turned-up-arms-crossed style. This is the type of self-serving, fluctuating rationale that has turned the media (both broadcast and social—yep, you and your friends/followers are ‘media outlets’ too) into a (rhetorical) sectarian warzone. Just a’buncha hardliners refusing to budge, well at least not publicly; our private minds are a mess of contradictions and confusion. But we don’t let our ‘enemies’ know this. That would be tantamount to admitting defeat. And that’s what this is all about: Clear cut winners and losers. And like sectarian violence, absolute determination of who’s right and who’s wrong lies with the one who ‘thinks’ they’re right2

“Oh shit, you see the piece a rep from The Other Side just put out about the contentious sub-issue in our broader war of words? It’s making the rounds, emboldening their troops, winning over fence-sitters; shit’s scathing, on-the-money too. An’ we ain’t got nothin’ for it right now, but whatever you do, don’t lose the brave face; just keep parroting the sentiment from that one tweet from that one guy. Yes, we’ve been rockin’ with it for the last three weeks and I know it’s not really working, but it’s all we got until we get some new shit. Just keep up the steady wall of rhetoric. Just keep shoutin’ our talking points… I’ll scour the net for memes, videos, quotes from dead people with important-sounding names—just anything we can use to illuminate our point. We’re hoping to get something from a celebrity soon, but it’s not looking too good at the moment. If all else fails we can always straw man this bitch.”

1. When it comes to mass shootings or other sensational, hyper transgressive events most of us do not have a way ‘in’; some related experience that allows us to pontificate with some sense of authority. Yeah, we may be gun owners or have struggled with depression/disaffection, but we cannot intimately RELATE to the act itself. Such is not the case with stories regarding (psychological and/or physical forms of) police brutality (and cancer), it is something that a number of us have either experienced ourselves or know someone who has. These stories lack the detached sensationalism of mass shootings.

2. On social media it seems we create a new ‘bible’ every news cycle; some manic (meme-heavy) collection of sentiments specific to our networks. And although their content may change with the if-it-bleeds-it-leads wind, there are recurring THEMES that crop up. Paying attention to these themes will give you an idea of what a particular ‘sect’ values…or more accurately: fears*. Just give your newsfeed, timeline, or whatever-place-where-you-endlessly-scroll-yourself-into-a-deep-depression a gander. No, for real, go take a peek. I’ll wait…

You peep the near-endless streams of the same fear diversified only by its attachment to different names and faces? This is nothing new of course. The ancient philosophies we practice as religions today are also collections of our fears and perverse fixations presented in contexts consistent with the cultures of the people of whom they were intended to admonish/enlighten.

I’ve received some flack for comparing social media with sanctified ancient stuff, but I get it. It seems to be in our nature to dismiss the ‘new’ and the ‘now’ as trivialities that pale in comparison to the staid wisdom of yesteryear, which is ironic given that our expressions are gonna be someone else’s ancient wisdom. Also, the Bible—replete with gossip-column-y titillating stories like that of Lot and his daughters and inspirational passages like those found in the Book of Psalms—is itself social media.

* The ‘devils’ of the different social media ‘religious groups’ differ in relation to the network’s make-up, and no matter the fluctuating nature of the ‘verses’ their ‘devils’ are usually always featured; law enforcement, Muslims, women, men, young black dudes and gays seem to be the most popular ones at the moment. I’m surprised at the lack of Canadian vilification though.


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