Metaphors

This morning I read a very interesting article on the filter bubble/echo chamber phenomenon. I learned that “filter bubble” is thought to be an inapt metaphor and that “echo chamber” is thought to be preferable. I understand that “echo chamber” does more to acknowledge the active part each of us plays in setting up our virtual surroundings than “filter bubble” does.

From my specific first-person perspective, however, there is a problem with “echo chamber”, too. The idea of “echo chamber” seems to be that we get out what we put in, suggesting that we are comfortably surrounded by people who we constantly agree with, thus even more likely to hold beliefs dogmatically than we already were before the echo chamber phenomenon took over public discourse. I myself used to use the term to self-ironically refer to my facebook-Twitter-sphere, too, in exactly that sense. It felt apt for a while, with all the connotations I just described.

But now something interesting happened: I do not know what exactly happened, or why or how it happened, but I somehow managed to set up my bubble/chamber in a way that started to alienate me. It became more and more of a deeply uncomfortable place, leading me to the suspicion that there were some things about the package that were fundamentally flawed. This has actually led me to suspend judgment on many issues about which I held strong beliefs.

I do not know whether that’s a normal thing to happen with echo chambers. Somehow it would make sense to me: full immersion can lead us to see the flaws of something that seemed to make sense before full immersion, when we weren’t close enough to see the problems. But it doesn’t feel like an echo chamber with the connotations that we usually ascribe to the term – in the sense that I would get out what I put in, thus comfortably being surrounded by my own opinion. To the contrary: what I get out starts to invoke more and more negative feelings. But then again, maybe the metaphor can be stretched that far? In the sense of: I get out what I have put in earlier, and it’s like I can actually hear myself speak now, offering me a chance to figure out what was wrong with what I said from a (termporal) distance? But if we look at the phenomenon this way, then it’s an equivalent to the old taking a good look in the mirror metaphor.  And that would mean that the echo chamber phenomenon was not necessarily pulling into only one direction – the increase of dogmatism – but also offering a chance for the critical revision of one’s own beliefs. Is that what the metaphor is meant to do? I do not know.

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