You’ve got to be joking. Honestly, I think my brain’s going to explode. I was ready to leave this behind, and now I’m not so sure.
First, David Weinberger writes an essay that quite ably argues that although there may be echo chambers per se, at least in terms of politics (which is a very minor slice of the whole pie, of course), on the web, there are in fact a multitude of them, and as a consequence we are able both in principle and in practice to expose ourselves to a greater range of opinion and interpretation than we might otherwise be. The space (if it can be well-described in spatial terms, a discussion long-past and best left buried under the azalea bush out back, perhaps) as a whole isn’t an echo chamber, he argues, if I understand him correctly: it is a vast concatenation of echo chambers, varying in their vehemence and level of groupthink, and thus benign. A metachamber, not ringing with echoes at all, but with the grand hubbub that is the sounds of the little echo chambers (occasionally with a population of one) singing into the void.
I’d argue that this is saying precisely nothing. I would argue that the weblog world is getting topheavy with pundits and supastars and, heaven forbid, leaders, who may (or may not) have gotten there from sheer merit, I admit, but that this trend is making thinking about the medium taste more like top-down pearls before swine than I’m entirely comfortable with.
I would argue that it is a tautology that the internet is a group of groups, and those groups, as a result of human nature, tend to organically accrete around shared common interests and beliefs, just as they do in the real world, and further that it is easier on the internet to be mobile between groups, sometimes radically different ones. This, I agree, is one of the great things about our digital lives. Unfortunately, unlike in real life, it is also far easier for participants to express themselves in ways more extreme than they might do in their ‘real lives’, and the echo chambers where there’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop of — shall we say — excessive zeal can turn evil or stupid or both very quickly indeed. But this isn’t what Dr W is talking about, I don’t think.
And I’m not entirely sure that I agree. Why is it a good thing, exactly? I suggest that the less writing (isn’t that what this is all about, out here in the ASCII (sorry, UTF-8) world? the writing?) and the more self-congratulation that goes on, the less relevance personal websitery seems to actually have to anyone, including its practitioners.
Next (and I don’t mean to get all up in David’s face, but he started me on this) Dr W anticipates a second Bloggercon and mentions that Dave Winer is planning to “ask each of the moderators to work ‘Nuking the Echo Chamber’ into the discussion”, and notes that Winer asks “How do we methodically and systematically overcome the tendency for echo chambers to form and self-perpetuate?”
Ahhhhhh-hahahahhaha. Stop me before I
kill blog again.
Am I losing my mind here? Is Dr Weinberger not a weblog-writer (brilliant and talented, intellectually grunty, fiercely sexy, all that, sure, OK — I’ve nothing but respect for the man even when he’s as wildly off the mark as I feel him to be on this) who is among that gang of Usual Suspects that show up at all of these blog conventions and conferences and so on and then tell us all about them (blogging about the talking about the blogging, which is often blogging about the blogging in the first place), whether we’re interested or not, who is a shaper, most certainly, of both the weblog universe’s thinking about itself and the old media’s perception of webloggers as well, is this fine fellow pointing to another of the Usual Suspects — this one even more of an 800 pound gorilla in the field, and one who’s running yet another of these conferences, at bloody Harvard no less — and praising a decision to have panel discussions at another blog conference about avoiding echo chambers ? With a straight face?
Am I insane, or the last one left who isn’t? Is plain old irony supposed to make me laugh this hard?
I wouldn’t care, honestly, if it weren’t a matter of many of these folks guiding and shaping so much of our thinking about weblogs and web writing and all the various activities that fall under the ‘blogging’ umbrella. The echo chamber in which Dr Weinberger unapologetically places himself, I submit, is the only one that is truly dangerous to our Happy Fun Shiny Weblog World at all, because it is the one from which so much of the thinking we take as common currency trickles down to us mere, bits-only mortals. Or is it only me that thinks that the Usual Suspects have an overly strong influence in the way we think about this stuff, that their frequent meetings in the world of atoms consolidates and extends that influence, and that sometimes it feels as if there really is an emerging Cabal™? Is it only because of the corner of the metachamber in which I find myself? Am I missing all the constellations of new voices who haven’t gotten linked as a result of what they write rather than who they’ve met?
Honestly, I’d really appreciate some help figuring out if I’m talking complete bollocks here, and developing unhealthy signs of compulsion in my semi-demented criticism of blog conferences. Is it just sour grapes because I’m poor as a church mouse and live half a planet away from all the action? Shouldn’t the tyranny of distance not matter any more? Is it only me?