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.

It’s BarCamp Day!

8:51am – Well BarCamp is here. I decided to start a little “live blog” to document my day. We are just getting started and voting for presentations will start. I don’t know if I will get to present yet, but we will see.

9:05am – Voting using is MUCH better than paper. Now I get to wait to see if I made the cut.

9:43am – In a session titled “Using Behavioral Psychology to Improve Your Website & Business.” with David Williams. Interesting listening to how we “trick” ourselves into doing things we would not ordinarily do. We also apply patterns where none exist. We feel we have “control” of the situation and we do not recognize change as it occur. Interesting presentation. As soon as I have the slide share links, I will post them. By the way, if you are online now, check out this Ustream link

10:26am – In Dick Pepper’s session on Building a Mobile App in 30 Minutes. I didn’t know hybrid apps were so easy to develop. I am thinking about getting into app development now. I need to get a bit better with java, but it doesn’t seem that hard. Look out world, more junk apps on the way

11:00am – OH NO, I am up next. I’ll post how it goes later. Wish me luck.

12:15pm – Eating a great lunch. I am pleased with my presentation. I had a good fro up with lots of great interactions. They may rate me horribly, but I think it went really well. I will post a full post with the content, but if you’d like to see the slides, go over to and search for AndyG1128 and the presentation, How Social Media Has Changed the Way We Buy and Sell. Now to finish this great catfish and hushpuppies.

12:45pm – We got to see a mini version of IgniteMemphis. Also listening to ConnectMemphis discuss the push to help all Memphis bloggers connect. Also seeing a presentation to EmergeMemphis. A proclamation from the Governor proclaiming next week as international entrepreneurship week. Also hearing how the state is looking to expand entrepreneurship and small business in Tennessee. It sounds like Tennessee is serious about promoting business.

2:50pm – Sitting around in the hallway between sessions talking about geek stuff, and getting ready for the last presentation of the day. We are going to give our talk on location based services. You may still be able to see the ustream at the link above.

4:04pm – Just got through with the 3pm session with Aaron and Rachel. I think we had a slow start, but the crowd interacted well and we went forward. Lots of good ideas and a possible business idea was hatched. More about that another time. I hope to have a post detailing the session we did later. Now they are giving away door prizes. Maybe I’ll get one, but probably not.

4:22pm – Well, that’s a wrap. I ended up with no door prizes, but that ok. It was a fun and educational day and there aren’t many places you can go and leave saying that. I will have several follow up posts from this, but for now, I am signing off.

When the Internet Attacks!

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Let’s say that you are the publisher of a free cooking magazine with recipes and pictures.  Let’s also suppose that you’re looking for fresh new talent or articles, for you magazine.

Do you:
A)  Scan the blogosphere for young writers that fit your style and offer them placement in your magazine?
B)  Scan published magazines and websites looking for new articles and then ask for permission to republish?
C)  License content from reputable sources? OR
D)  Simply copy articles and information from published, copy-write protected web sites and reprint them without permission?

If you are Cooks Source Magazine, (don’t bother with that link, it’s currently toasted, try the Facebook page here until it too is gone.) you obviously choose D, but take care, for in that way direction you only find pain and destruction, as you will see in a moment.

Monica Gaudio published a story last evening that came to me through several news sites today, almost all at once. (A few are linked at the bottom of this post)  The story, to quickly summarize, starts with a post Monica did on a web site in 2005 on old English tart recipes.  It was written, posted and she moved on from there.  Although her post doesn’t state it, I dare say she may even have forgotten the post over time.  Imagine her surprise then, when a friend called her to congratulate her being published in Cooks Source Magazine.  When Monica researched it, sure enough, it was her article published without her permission.  Doing a little “Google-fu”, Monica found the contact information for the magazine, contacted them, and informed them of the obvious mistake.  When asked what she “wanted”, Monica states that she requested

I wanted an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation (which turns out to be about $0.10 per word of the original article) to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism.

To a novice like myself, I would say that was almost like giving them a slap on the wrist, but, I am evidently not as forgiving as Monica.  If the publisher, Judith Griggs, had done as requested, I doubt any of us would even be hearing about this whole escapade.  However, Ms. Griggs responded in a most peculiar way.  Below is a quote from the email.

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

Well…There just aren’t words…

The idea that anything on the internet is “public domain” is silly at best, more likely criminal at worst.  While copy-write law is clear that a list of ingredients is not protected, that is not what happened here.  This “magazine” lifted the whole article and had the audacity to claim that the editor should have been compensated for her “advice” and providing an article that would look good in a portfolio.

I am not going to rant on about this,even though there is a mountain of stupidity in Ms Griggs thought pattern, because that is not the most interesting part of the story.

Monica did what anyone engaged in blogging or social media would do – She posted about it Then a few others saw and passed the story on to their friends, who posted links on Twitter to the Facebook page where thousand of people are venting their “dislike” of the magazine.  This item has become a trending topic on Twitter. The Facebook page is getting updates so fast you have to go back several pages to find anything older than an hour ago.  Authors such as Neil Gaiman!/neilhimself/status/29694195618

and John Scalzi!/scalzi/status/29672448399

have tweeted their disgust with the magazine, and of course, someone setup the fake twitter account CooksSource just to keep the meme alive (It has since vanished).  This has even made the “main stream” news sites such as the Guardian and the Washington Post (see the block of links below)  It seems this has become that proverbial “Tempest in a Teapot” that threatens to spill out even further.  According to posts on the Cooks Source Facebook page, people have found that the magazine has even lifted articles and information from Paula Dean and the Food Network, Martha Stewart, and even more are being uncovered as the   situation develops.  Check out this Twitter Search for more “goodies” as the story continues to develop.

***Update:  For an in depth look at this story as well as evidence of other alleged acts of plagiarism, go to Edward Champion’s post here.***

Needless to say, this has turned into quite a mess for Cooks Source Magazine and its now famous editor.  Some advertisers who have been contacted have even called the magazine to cancel their relationship.  It has definitely been a long day for Ms Griggs at this point and I dare say that $130 donation sounds much better in hindsight.

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Ok, I think I’ve had enough Memphis bashing. It seems the most popular past time in Memphis is telling each other exactly how bad the city is and how people can’t get ahead and how poor old Memphis can’t even get a decent basketball team that doesn’t end up getting smacked by the NCAA.

While I am the first to admit that Memphis is not the top of the heap for a lot of people, it most certainly is NOT the worst place in existence.  Yes there are areas where the crime is bad and the drug use is high, but I dare you to show me any metropolitan area in the US that doesn’t have some sort of issue with any one of these things.  We seem to be so quick to pile on when bad news about Memphis is published in a national paper or magazine, but when an article or list which shows Memphis is good at something, we all act surprised that we even made the list at all.

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Great Facebook Deletion Day

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Well, today’s the day. You did remember didn’t you? You DID follow through and actually delete your Facebook profile didn’t you? Yeah, me neither.

For most of the US, today was a day of cookouts and remembrances of those fallen in securing and defending our freedoms. For a large part of the rest of the world, it was just another Monday, with all of its inherent struggles and drive to survive. But for a few of us “techies” and the “technorati elite”, today was D-Day as in Delete our Facebook Profile day. This was to be the day the masses stampeded away from the evil corporation headed by the “L’Enfant terrible” – Mark Zuckerberg, in response to the “outrageous and horrendous” default privacy settings which aren’t very, well, private. The rallying cry came from the tech elites such as Leo Laporte, Jason Calacanis, and others though out the “blogosphere.” “Facebook is EVIL,” they cried, “and you must leave NOW!” As of this afternoon, I’ve lost, maybe 2 people from my friends list, I think, if I remember the count right and I don’t expect to loose many more. In other words, it is starting to look like much ado over nothing. Read more