Life in the Echo Chamber

echochamber1234-thumbBlah! Blah! Blah!  It seems to go on incessantly.  We hear the polarizing commentary from pundits on TV and our internet social streams repeated by friends and coworkers. The arguments begin soon after and the posts, filled with vitriol and hate from many sides, fill our social media streams as the non-conversation breaks down into the grownup equivalent of “I know you are but what am I” and “You’re a meanie head.”

It seems everyone is great at gathering “like-minded” people and repeating the same chatter back to themselves, reinforcing their own beliefs whether rooted in fact or fiction.  We have become a nation, a world of people who only want to talk and agree with people who talk about and agree with our own views. I know that sounds circular, but it is, in fact, the result of the echo chambers we find ourselves inhabiting in today’s social world. This incessant echo is beginning to rip apart the very foundation of our society and reduce us to class vs. class, gender vs. gender, red vs. blue, belief vs. belief vs. belief.  It seems that issues that divide outnumber those that unite, and the desire to separate ourselves into smaller and smaller groups of “Us” and “Them” propagates everything from politics and religion to sports teams and whether a good book has been ruined because the author was a bigoted jerk.  This separation in our social framework is rooted in the echo chamber, the gathering of like-minded people who repeat their ideals to one another and vilify those with opposing views to the point where there is a gulf that cannot be crossed lest we infect ourselves with the “sickness” that infects the other side.

The pre-Internet world had the same problem, but seemingly not at the epidemic levels we see today.(Yes, this curmudgeon is old enough to remember days before easily accessed message boards or social sites where people can spout inanities at their leisure. ) Before the days where you could share your ideals in 140 characters or less, it was harder to build echo chambers but they could still exist.  Remember, there were always people who claimed the moon landings were faked, or that Kennedy was killed by LBJ and the Mafia with help from ET.  Even without the internet, people would gather and share these ideas and would reinforce these beliefs with others who believed similar theories and help them “Keep the Faith” in the face of ridicule and opposition.  No, echo chambers have always been with us, but what is happening today could only have escalated to its current chronic condition with the very invention that has grown our knowledge and connection; the access to instantaneous communication with people from almost anywhere, at any time, and on any topic our heart desires.

Here is an absurd example. If you believe that vanilla ice cream is the only real ice cream, and that all other ice cream is an abomination to the lactosian rulers of the multiverse, and, given enough tweets, Facebook posts, and other social media outlet messages espousing your “pure” ice cream dogma, you will find and/or convert enough to your cause to reinforce your own beliefs and in turn reinforce your new-found friend’s beliefs.  You will help each other formulate arguments against those heathens who believe chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream, and how to argue against those who claim that vanilla is only a flavor and that real ice cream has no attachment to the flavor itself and that everyone should be able to choose their own particular flavor regardless of the base.Lines will be drawn, posts made, forums taken over by proponents of each view and in these, each side will continue to enforce their own beliefs, building straw man arguments and making fun of those who are clueless to the true flavor of ice cream.

This would be silly enough on its own but it doesn’t stop there.  Someone in the vanilla only camp will vilify those who use sprinkles, as we all know, pure ice cream must stay pure, no additives , preservatives, or sprinkles.  This will cause a schism in the vanilla camp that is a mirror of a similar breakup in the chocolate camp and the “any flavor” anarchists that are out there.  This splintering effect will continue to further divide the group until there are multiple variations and even a few “enlightened” ice cream eaters who’ve opened there arms to any flavors, toppings, and even <GASP> mix-ins to your heart content.  Each group continues to grow and spread their ideals, while at the same time, increasing their list of enemies to include those who oppose them. even if they forget why they made a distinction between white and rainbow-colored sprinkles.

Before we go any further, I know some of you are thinking that my example is too silly and absurd.  In answer to that, replace ice cream with any topic that separates us today, from religion, to gender equality, to race, and almost anything else and you might find yourself a bit surprised. BIG NOTE HERE- I am NOT comparing any of these topics to ice cream and I know beyond any doubt that my example is an extreme oversimplification of the issues, BUT, stop and think about the fact that we’ve had people arguing over bathrooms and splitting hairs over what people are born with and what they now have and I don’t think I’m too far off base.

So, this is generally the part where the author details an awesome plan for a solution and call to action, and while I wish I could solve these issues in a single post, I am not crazy enough to think that I have the one and only answer to the problem and can dictate a solution to anyone.  I only know that we all have to take steps to bridge the divide and stop yelling AT one another and start listening to those whom we have learned to call “them”.  We must expose ourselves to ideals that frighten and even upset us, if for no other reason than to understand why there is a difference in the first place.  We must focus on the common ground wherever we can and remember that the person on the other side of the tweet, Facebook post, or message board rant is another human with frailties, fears, loves, hates, and failings.

In the end, I can only truly control my own actions and voice, and that only with a great effort.  That’s why I pledge to listen, think, and reply with dignity and respect when I disagree.  I pledge to respect another’s point of view, even if I cannot see or even understand it, and I pledge to disagree without dehumanizing those with opposing views, even if they attempt to dehumanize me.  I will listen before blindly speaking and refuse to fall into the trap of Us and Them.

Oh, and one more thing, I’ll even respect you people who eat pistachio ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, even though everyone knows you’re insane.

Like Two Ships That Pass In The Night…

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There is a song, one of my favorites, called Ships. I like this version by Barry Manilow, but to each his own.

The song is specifically about a father and son, two ships that passed in the night, mourning a closeness lost, and the wish for all to return to the days of closeness that were once shared.  It is a melancholy song which fit my mood today.

As I listened to the song, and sat and let my mind wander, it struck me that many of our relationships, or friends, and even family are like those ships, passing in the night. Read more

Clearing Away the Dust

Ok, I think it’s time I clear away the dust and cobwebs on this place.  I’ve written in other venues and let this site gather so much junk and bad plugins, that I had to  do what we in IT occasionally call “Nuke and Pave.”  In other words, I had to uninstall and reinstall WordPress, (not hard, mind you, but a bit consuming when you have my attention span) then I had to reintegrate all of my old posts (some of these things have been around me since the 90’s lol.)

If you read an old post and notice it’s missing an image, I’m working to replace them, but it quickly hits a point of diminishing returns. (anything earlier than 2011, I’m looking at you) In any case, Welcome to the “updated” Green Eggs and Spam.


Exit the Hero

ScreenSnapz2-1Hopefully, you’ll indulge a bit of nostalgia for just a bit.  A part of my “geeky” world has always been comic books.  The fantasy world that the comic book brings has always held a certain fascination for me.  One of my favorites, of course, was Superman and I can remember sneaking a look at the comics every time I went into a  store, hoping to see the latest tragedy and see the hero always find a way to win.  I loved the X-Men as well, because I sort of identified with the “mutant” feeling.  Being a smart kid that didn’t go do all the things the other kids did set me apart and I felt that “difference” deeply.The list of characters can go on and on as I loved the mythos that surrounded all the story lines, from the super soldier, Captain America and his “awakening” to the gritty Sandman series (pun actually intended that time) and all the genres in between.  I still have a moderate collection, primarily of Superman from the time around the “Death of Superman” story line and a year or so after that story ended.

Imagine my delight, when about eight years ago, a new video game hit the market called, City of Heroes.     Read more

All about Heart

photo by qthomasbower downloaded from Flickr -

I just read an AWESOME essay by Brian Doyle, editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. The post is on The American Scholar website.  You can read the complete article here.

Go read it and then come back. I’ll wait… Read more