Echo Chamber Escape Plan

Gil Templeton

Remember that scene in How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey one) when The Grinch holds a conversation with himself through his own echoes? “Hello!….Hello!” “How are you?…How are you?” Then, in a perfectly hilarious moment he yells, “I’m an idiot!” and the echo replies, “You’re an idiot!” In a way, this is how your online echo chamber works.

For the blissfully unaware, the echo chamber effect happens when social feeds and search results skew to reflect users’ own thoughts and biases—confirming and snowballing what they already believe. And when the average American spends more time on Facebook (50 minutes a day!) than eating meals with people, this phenomenon can’t be ignored.

Say you’re into conspiracy theories (looking at you, Dan). You follow a few flat-earther accounts on Twitter, watch YouTube videos on how 9/11 was an inside job, and search Google to see how the Illuminati controls the way your bathtub drains (thank God that’s not an actual theory). Soon, your feed is full of whack-jobs, and you regularly find yourself 10,000 leagues deep in a comments section.

Now these insane ideas start to appear as facts. The internet—originally an open source for the exchange of knowledge—has caved in on itself. The echoes start yelling, “You’re an idiot!” but you’re too busy listening to Stairway to Heaven backwards to hear them.

As ad people, there’s no doubt we spend more time in the digital world than your average person. Given the political climate, the war on truth and echoes of “FAKE NEWS” everywhere, we NEED to get out of our echo chambers every now and then. Sure, yours isn’t as extreme as my example, but you’re still in one. We all are. So here are a few things that might help us escape our echo chambers and keep our minds more open.

1. Think about who “sets your agenda”

For centuries, you had to be a noteworthy person to be published. Now, anyone with a valid email address can make a social account and spew nonsense to the world. Do your homework on the people and sources you get your information from. Don’t treat everything as fact. Yes, that random dude had a brilliantly snarky reply to the Tweeter-in-Chief, but how does he know Trump has never read a book?

2. Wear a different hat every now and then

Not literally. What I mean is, hang out with different groups. Spend time with “interesting” people—ones who share your disposition, but differ from you politically, culturally or economically (hell, maybe it’s just someone who loves ABBA). Chances are you have more in common than you think. Once you find middle ground or laugh together, it’s easier to listen to different points-of-view. Someone’s disgruntled comment on Facebook doesn’t paint anything close to a complete picture.

3. Balance your feed

On sites like Facebook and Twitter that are essentially curated news services, take a second to look at who you follow, and try to widen your scope. This doesn’t mean to follow Fox News if you know you can’t stand it, but follow a range of news sources at the local, national and international level, and steer clear on the ones flagged for sharing fake news. At the very least, you’ll unfollow a few accounts that have annoyed the shit out of you for years.

4. Put the phone out of reach

This doesn’t mean leaving your phone at home. It means putting it away, maybe in a drawer or an out-of-reach place when you don’t need it. I’ve found when I do this, I lose the compulsion to constantly check my phone for no reason. This gives me more time in my own mind, and less time inside of other people’s. Last week I was reading an awesome book, but I kept putting it down every few pages to refresh Instagram. Why?

5. Eat with other people

We’re hardwired to be social animals that eat with each other. Yes, there are days you order a “sad sandwich” from Jimmy John’s and eat at your desk. But meals are a place for meaningful, more complete conversation where you exchange ideas with the people present in your actual life—not your digital one. The way people interact and talk in real life is entirely different from the way we “talk” online. Conversations matter more than comments. Don’t forget it.

6. Embrace boredom

Ol’ boredom. Remember what that felt like? Being stuck with your own thoughts? Standing in line at McDonald’s for 30 seconds without pulling your phone out? Sitting on a subway and looking at the weird people around you? Watching a TV show without following the conversation live on Twitter? It’ll make you feel like a goddamn pilgrim. We’re so connected, it’s almost refreshing to be bored out of your gourd every now and then. Sometimes that’s when inspiration strikes.

At bare minimum, hopefully this gives you something to think about. Simply recognizing that we’re in our own echo chamber is half the battle. The other half is escaping it.