Librarian by Day Bobbi Newman | I'm not that kind of librarian

Thinking Outloud About The Echo Chamber

01.25.2010 · Posted in Echo Chamber

right on man!Last week while I was traveling Net Potter brought to my attention a discussion happening on Twitter about the echo chamber (#echolib). This is an incredibly important topic to be thinking about and discussion to have. I’ve been thinking heavily about the ideas of the Echo Chamber and the Bubble lately (well last longer actually).

Let’s talk about the Echo Chamber first – let’s face it most of us are preaching to the choir. Chances are if you didn’t believe in what I write and agree with me (most of the time) you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Chances are if I read your blog and/or follow you on Twitter I agree with you. I occasionally wonder if this is any different from a pack of high school aged “cool” kids, one of them says something and the others say “right on man”! We’re just puffing each other up. What about the unconverted? What if (gasp!) we’re wrong?

In December when I decided to take a two week break I quoted from What Matters Now: “The echo chamber we’re building is getting larger and louder.” – Connected, Howard Mann. I was thinking about and concerned that I am only preaching to the choir. That blogging and twitter are not making the difference I want (hope) to make.

When Seth Godin posted about libraries I loved watching the reaction that went across the web, I even wrote a long comment on Toby’s blog post*. But at the same time the little voice in the back of my mind said – “you are preaching to the choir” and indeed I got several “right on man”s from it. Not that I’m ungrateful for the words of encouragement and support from my colleagues, its always wonderful to hear they don’t think I’m an idiot. I do believe there are positives from the echo chamber – its good hear you are not alone, to have other like-minded people to share ideas with, this is important for motivation & inspiration. Just don’t forget there are others out there who don’t agree with you.

I’m worried though, that as Howard Mann, said “the echo chamber we’re building is getting larger and louder”. At the time I posted the comment I was just thrilled to put my 2 cents in. But later I wondered are the people who don’t agree with me hearing this? Chances are they don’t read blogs, or if they do they don’t read this one, or that they were out-of-town this week. Even if they did see it one of the disadvantages of the web is you don’t have to wait for the opposing viewpoint to finish speaking before you start your response and they don’t have to listen to your response. The web makes it easier to shout louder and longer. Shouting louder into the echo chamber provides support for what you’re yelling and diminishes the chance of  hearing a dissenting view-point. Or engaging in real conversation.

Are we, the twittering, blogging, technology inclined shouting into the echo chamber? Are we only  puffing each other up? Do we care that this defeats our purpose and goals? I guess it depends on your goals. (Some I’m sure, are just happy to have choir to preach to.) But for most of us, its not. If we’re too busy telling each other “right on man” who’s engaging in discussion with those who don’t agree with us? Because let’s face it, they aren’t reading your blog or following you on twitter.

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*I want to be clear that I have the utmost respect for Toby and believe his post on his blog and The Huffington Post were appropriate and well thought out. I am not disparaging them in any way, it is a just a recent incident I could use to make a point. I was and am thrilled to see so many great people responding to and thinking about this issue. You’ll have to forgive me, but I have to say it to them -right on man! :-)

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16 Responses to “Thinking Outloud About The Echo Chamber”

  1. Right on man! Kidding Bobbi, but I've noticed the same thing. It's really easy to get caught up in the echo chamber hearing the same things over and over again. Often the feeds I subscribe to reinforce things that I already think as opposed to getting me to examine a problem from a different viewpoint. You get to select who you follow on Twitter and which blogs you follow, and these are often people whose viewpoints you already agree with.

    When I went to Midwinter, I can't say I learned a lot of new things because I went to sessions where I was already fairly familiar with the content. I enjoy hearing the viewpoints of some of the folks who presented the Top Tech Trends, but there were no surprises. So I think the two main problems are “how do we reach the unconverted” and “how can we branch out, and hear some fresh perspectives from both inside and outside the library field?”

    • Andy – I think your last 2 questions are right on.
      “how do we reach the unconverted”
      “how can we branch out, and hear some fresh perspectives from both inside and outside the library field?”
      Even if, as David suggestions, we are reaching the huddled masses and just don't know it, we can always do more to open up the conversation right?
      Although the more I think about the term the unconverted the more I don't like it (I know I started it) it implies that we are right and they are wrong. I'm not sure either is the case, I think meeting in the middle is the most important.

      • I think David is probably right. Just because YOU or I may have heard something before and it sounds like an echo chamber does not mean that a lot of other people have heard the same message. Though something may seem old hat to me does not mean that the vast majority of the library community knows about it. Librarians, I believe, are a fairly tech savvy bunch compared to some other professions, but no one can be up on everything.

        Also “unconverted” does sound rather cult-ish. I never feel like I want to convert people to anything. I sometimes want to help others to do their jobs better or more effectively. I get excited about new different tools and all the cool stuff that is going on with web technology, but I don't force it on others. There is no one right way to do things, but by giving our own perspectives we're offering another voice and maybe something that someone else can make use of.

  2. Good thoughts, Bobbi! Here are some random thoughts of my own…

    For the most part, it's definitely true that the other librarianish bloggers that read me also somewhat agree with me (or at least see where I'm going with a thought). But there are around 6000+ people that subscribe to my blog, and even more that don't subscribe, but come visit every week/month.

    To take your choir analogy a bit further – I think the majority of these people aren't in the choir, but are attending the event. You and me, we hear the “choir” because we're standing beside each other – we are IN the choir. But there are more people in the audience – people who have come to listen, and don't know you or your “voice” (ie., thoughts). They truly came to hear you sing (ie., share your thoughts, etc)!

    Another way to say it – I hang around with cool people like you at conferences. You know what I think about blogs, twitter, technology, etc., and if you came to my session on something, I'm guessing there would be few surprises, if any.
    But even at ITI events, probably 50-75% of the attendees have never been before – hence, they've never heard me talk. When I give my talk on digital experience the third time in a row, I'm not giving it to you – becasue that would be preaching to the choir. I'm giving it to people who maybe haven't heard it before.

    There's probably some big idea thingie here that I should now say to end this thought… but it's gone. Dang it!

    And ps – just for kicks, I'm clicking the “share on twitter” box in disqus to see what it does! Woo hoo :-)

    • David – I think I see what you're saying, basically the unconverted are out there listening/watching/reading but since they aren't vocal we aren't hearing them.

      Maybe the important thing to keep in mind is that even if you can't hear them, even if they aren't shouting back they are listening? sometimes?

  3. joe grobelny says:

    yes and no?

    yes: online social networks reinforce social norms (apophenia)
    no: more and more “2.0/emerging tech/etc.” is being written into library job descriptions, so active practitioners are being actively sought by employers, bringing it (slowly) into the workforce. real change moves slowly, because we're still librarians and the nature of our work is to build useful and lasting things, which takes longer than we want it to!

  4. Yeah, I think so – they are listening and learning from us shouters… :-)

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