Echo Chambers… And Why You May Want To Step Away Occasionally

echo

This is the tl;dr version of this post

 

An echo chamber is a place where ideas gain strength through repetition. A great place to find like-minded friends who all agree with you and reinforce your opinion. You have some slight belief in something, and before you know it, you are 100% convinced that it is inarguably correct based on all the feedback you hear. It can be a great place to boost your ego with so many people who share your worldview.  But, it has its drawbacks. And they can have grave consequences.

 

In fact, it’s what’s happening in the election south of the 49th that inspired this rant, but politics are boring.  And I like baseball,  so I’m going to use a few baseball examples to demonstrate this….

The first time I became aware of this phenomenon on a personal basis, was when I learned of other people’s opinions of Tim McCarver.  For those who don’t know who he is, McCarver was a baseball broadcaster for many years.  Most Red Sox fans (including yours truly) weren’t fond of his broadcasts. He would occasionally make some minor mistakes — like misremembering player’s names for example:

— and similar things which were quite inconsequential,  but Red Sox fans would go out of their way to point out his mistakes. In social media, on message boards, on blog posts, we would all make fun of his mistakes to point out how incompetent he was. But the reality is he wasn’t that bad. We just didn’t like him because he was such a diehard Yankees fan and was always openly rooting for them to win……..or so we thought!  I once drunkenly stumbled onto a Yankees fans message board, and saw that everyone was talking about how much they didn’t like him because he was always openly rooting for the Red Sox to win. At first I thought this was sarcasm, but then realized that Yankees fans truly believed he was out to get them and would always go out of his way to point out all of Derek Jeter’s flaws. This seemed unreal to me, because charitably you could say that non-Yankees fans always  thought he went out of his way to make Jeter look better than he was.

Hmmmm…. something wasn’t adding up.

I noticed a similar phenomenon while following baseball games on Twitter. If an umpire made a close call go against the Red Sox, all of my followers would complain that this guy was always biased against the Red Sox, we never got any of the close calls, and if we lost invariably the umpire was blamed for the loss. I then started compiling twitter lists of other team’s fans, and made it a habit of following fans of both teams while watching any game. It was amazing that both sets of fans would say the exact same thing (i.e. both fanbases thought the officiating was biased against their team).

I noticed the same thing while watching games on TV. Buck Martinez will point out that an umpire called a pitch that was 1/8 of an inch outside the strike zone a strike against the Blue Jays, and that call could have killed a potential rally which may have been the turning point of the game. But he won’t say a word when that same umpire helps a Blue Jays pitcher out of a bases loaded jam by calling a strike three on a pitch 4 inches outside the plate. In his mind, and the thought he plants in the viewers heads, is that Scenario 1 was an umpire biased against the Jays, scenario 2 was the Jays pitcher hitting his spot like he was supposed to. Sigh….

On instant replay challenges, fans of one team are always convinced that this should take no time to overturn because the call was clearly wrong, while fans of the other team wonder why they are wasting time on a review where the correct call was so obviously made. And regardless of the ruling, ½ of the commenters end up frustrated at how useless the replay system is.

I was watching the World Series and thought Joe Buck really wanted the Chicago Cubs to win, to help the narrative of breaking the 100+ years that it’s been since they won. I saw a bunch of people on twitter echo that same sentiment.

But then I took a quick look to see what Cubs fans were saying, and surprise, surprise… they all thought he wanted the Cleveland American League franchise to win.

But most of the time, readers, viewers, observers etc., aren’t listening to two different sets of viewpoints. They are following their Red Sox tweeps, or watching the Blue Jays broadcast, and just keeping seeing/hearing one side of the narrative. And then confirmation bias kicks in. You sort of think that maybe, something might be true, you hear a bunch of people repeat the same thing, and now you are 100% convinced of this “fact”.

THIS IS A PROBLEM, SHEEPLE!  It’s hard to learn anything when we only choose to read news or follow social media that  we select specifically because it is aligned with our existing views (or shared with us by our acquaintances who have the same worldview). Like I said, it’s good for the ego, but it’s a good idea to occasionally listen to a differing viewpoint, just in the off chance that you might not be 100% correct.  You may even learn something by actively seeking out news or social media coverage of “the other side”  (and that’s as close to politics as I’ll ever talk about on this blog).

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