The internet is the greatest echo chamber ever, it is a place where one can find their niche and stick to it with the strictest precision. The original goal of the internet was to create a place where open communication could be facilitated and ideas could be shared. In principle this is a great idea, but when it comes to the practical application, it is the opposite of what happened.
People are drawn to others like them, in the real world we befriend the people around us who share our interests. Luckily we can’t find people who are exactly like us, so we are forced to intermingle with people who share our interests but don’t totally overlap. In real life you might be a Toronto Blue Jays fan while your friend is into the Yankees or even basketball instead. Friends may share a mutual interest in sports, but not so much on the specifics so a larger range of common interest overlap. In real life we find people who we share some interests with but at the same time aren’t exactly like us.
However, when interests are pushed to the internet, they transcend the typical geographic barriers to relationships and allow people with similar interests from all around the world to connect. The range of people who can share the interest is extended to the extreme, so anyone who has the interest can be a part of the conversation. Unfortunately these groups self-select and members who don’t share the ideas exactly can leave and find another group that does.
This means that over time any group on the internet, more easily than in real life, will consist of only the most extreme members, thus the topics of conversation will become stricter and more limited. This also means that exposure to different ideas and opinions will become fewer as those who don’t agree will leave while new additions will come for the ultra-specificity of the group.
Online groups tend to be formed around specific niches, thus their focus is by necessity narrow. In real life situations, as a group spends more time together a greater range of topics may come up in conversation. On the internet with a cornucopia of groups for specific interests one must be a member of multiple communities to get exposure to different ideas, which can be difficult.
Specialized group play language games where words gain specific meanings, this leads to the a difficulty in understand of the claims of another group. When the meaning of our words change, we lose the ability to understand contradictory views.
The internet’s great offer was the spread information, but our natural tendency is to stick with people like us. As a result our ideas become supersaturated and we lose touch with information outside of our group and ideas. In time we become intolerant of alternative ideas and the only views we hear are the ones we already agree with.
It is easy to get caught up in these games, we usually don’t even realize we are playing them until we take a step back, but even that is difficult. The internet was supposed to liberate our minds, but it has actually created intellectual prisons for our thoughts. Hyperconnectivity only makes this worse, not only have we lost sight of the groups we aren’t a part of, we have started to forget that they even exist while we become more sure of what we already know.
If we want to expand our mind we need to step back and realize the echo chambers we have become a part of and free ourselves. The worst prisons are the ones we don’t even realize we are in, if we knew maybe we would wonder how we got into them in the first place.