At risk of being labeled an echochamberist, I'm going to agree that danah has a good point in her post about echo chambers. (See David Weinberger's article for more background.) I think it is natural to communicate most with people whom you share context and I believe that if you separate strong ties and weak ties a la Granovetter's Strength of Weak Ties, there is definitely a lot of "strong tie" hang-out-with-your-friends action that goes on on blogs. I think that's natural. Most blogs are conversations between a small group of friends.

It's clear that it's fun and easy to hang out with people you like and trust and shared context allows you to relax and communicate easily. I do not think, however, that hanging out with your friends is exclusive of caring about or listening to people outside your immediate group of friends. This is especially true if you care about diversity or the pursuit of truth. The difficulty with blogs is that a variety of contexts are collapsed and the conversation with your friends, the conversation with a larger community and the general pursuit of diversity and "triangulation" all happens in the same place.

Normally, chatting in the kitchen with my family, hanging out at a geek conference and giving a plenary at an international conference are different contexts for me where I am performing a different facet of my identity and where my mind is in a completely different mode. On my blog, I somehow mix all of these together.

I think that in the real world the amount time communicating with your strongs ties is generally greater than the amount of time communicating with your weak ties. Weak ties are like transferring information across communities and boundaries whereas communicating inside of your group is more like digesting these thoughts. I suppose the question is whether talking about things among your friends tends to reinforce and amplify misconceptions or leads to greater understanding of the issues.

On the one hand, sharing context allows you to communicate efficiently and place new ideas into existing frameworks without the risk of constantly talking past each other. On the other hand, it limits your ability to "think outside the box" and a poorly organized group probably causes mutual back-patting. I think that's what the echo chamber is currently being blamed for causing. Shouldn't we recognize the fact that people will hang out with their friends and create communities and try to focus on how use these communities together with our weak ties?

I think that the project that Ethan and I are planning is an example of this. The idea is to take a group of bloggers to Africa. The strong ties allows us to have a group of people with whom we share a context so that we can support each other and work together to think about and create action based on things we see and learn in Africa. Going to Africa is an attempt to forge weak ties with a community outside. I think that without the smaller group of friends, trying to tie my Africa experience into my daily life would be more difficult and I think that going to Africa will enrich my local community with lots of new information and culture. I think the perfect balance is what we are trying to achieve.

20 Comments

Bravo. Well put.
The key here is to NOT close the "chamber". The key here is to remain open to new and outside voices, which I personally know you and the others wrongfully accused of being "echo chamber shut-ins", are. (Open to new and outside voices that is.)

I think a definite reality that caused this perception to perpetuate is the fact that in this medium of weblogs and RSS feeds and social network software, it is very easy to get overwhelmed with many many many new voices. Some handle it better than others, and in varying degrees.

Let's not forget Ross's Ecosystem:
http://radio.weblogs.com/0114726/2003/02/12.html
For it to work we must all keep talking and, more importantly, listening.

As well as being open to new ideas, you have to be willing to challenge other people with your own. The problem is that there is a risk of alienating a hard-won audience. Haven't we all changed what we wrote in an article because we didn't believe the audience was ready to accept it?

In extreme(ly comic) cases, I have been part of groups of people in Japan that stood outside in the freezing cold (-10 Centigrade, in Sapporo) for about 30 minutes as nobody was prepared to just say which restaurant they wanted to go to, lest their opinion not agree with that of others!

What you say about "going to Africa as a group" reminds me of something I understood a couple of days back.

Having set off alone to live in India for a year (and come back), I now find that there are very few people with whom I really share this part of my life. When I was in India, there were also very few people with whom I could actually share what I was going through.

Basically, I had nobody (barring one notable exception) there to share my context with, and nobody to share it with when I came back (still barring the notable exception).

Such extreme(ly irritating) cases are common in Sendai too. Thankfully its not so cold here.

After standing in the rain for 15 mins suffering their indecision, I have found that making a choice and "imposing" it on others means that I am "wagamama" (selfish).

Steph,

I did the same, left off to live and work in Bangkok for a year. Except for the person I went with, it's not really possible for me to share this with others. Especially because of the way I travelled. A great deal of my friends have travelled, but none in the same way as I.
I can now see that I create these kinds of echo chambers all the time on many different levels.

It doesn't require me to do something "extreme" as moving from Denmark to Thailand. Just moving within the same country, from a small city Esbjerg, to Copenhagen. Can create the same effect.

I presume it's happening when you go off in a group(or alone) and try to maximise your experience in every kind of way. That you get such a unique experience, that it's hard to share it with others.

This has resulted in me having lots of these "echo chambers" but in the same way as Joi describes. Simply to maximise the focus and as Boris noted, they are also open. Even it may be difficult at times to break in, but they _are_ open.

It's a very interesting issue. But also one, I think, that's very easy to use as a ground for an attack.

Some time ago I ran into an interesting term which is somewhat associated with echo chambers : "Freedom from speech" instead of Freedom of Speech.. that's what you get when you isolate yourself from different opinions and views. Prime example being a redneck village somewhere down south..

I wrote the previous "blog" a couple nights ago, before I read this one. (Couldn't decide to press submit, or not.)

"I do not think, however, that hanging out with your friends is exclusive of caring about or listening to people outside your immediate group of friends."

You can listen all you want, but you won't understand people outside your group "automagically".

"This is especially true if you care about diversity or the pursuit of truth."

That's why there is such-a tendency towards APPARENT diverity. Actual diversity comes from understanding someone's pov, which is not common in the Blogdom.

"I suppose the question is whether talking about things among your friends tends to reinforce and amplify misconceptions or leads to greater understanding of the issues."

Depends how great is the understanding of your friends, for one thing. And whether they are "willing to challenge other people with (their) own" ideas, for another, in a (hopefully) compassionate and understanding way. Dunno that I do this well, at all times, either.

And open to other ideas?? Easier to pretend than do.

"The problem is that there is a risk of alienating a hard-won audience."


"Prime example being a redneck village somewhere down south.."

Finally, "Haven't we all changed what we wrote in an article because we didn't believe the audience was ready to accept it?"

On occasion, but blogarists (bloggers who are basically just store-and-foward of "plagarized" ideas) tend to make a habit out of it.

That's how one gets negative results like the Dean Campaign, from a negative-results-producing echo chamber. This is sometimes seen in hindsight, but not always even then.

"I think the perfect balance is what we are trying to achieve."

That would be a large.. a HUGE.. problem throughout the Blogdom. Perfection being the very anti-thesis, at times, of Reality. And perfectionism being a symptom (as well as an asset) of computer-folk, in general.

I think you're missing the point. The term "echo chamber" doesn't actually refer to the tendency of people to mix with people they like to mix with as much as to a militant rejection of contrary opinions and the people who hold them as unworthy of engagement. See this infamous post for an example of an echo-chamberist practicing his craft.

And, to conclude, ONE way to reinforce an echo chamber, lay another layer of cement over the framework, is to call the truth "pushback".

And to lie about, and harrass into silence, one who would've called you "friend", as Shel has done here.

This here thread is an echo chamber being built and maintained, right before whoever has eyes and happens to see.

I have removed some comments by Shelley and people commenting about Shelley and her site as requested by Shelley. Feel free to criticize me or discuss the topic of the post here, but take the discussion about Shelley and her site to your own blog. Please read my policy on comments.

Dag, Mr. Ito,

A compromise that deletes truth along with the lies is just throwing the baby out with the bath water. Again, that's how an echo chamber gets created and maintained... And that IS supposedly the topic here, right?

Damage has already been done anyway. People have seen Shel's lies here, and believed they were truth.

And people have seen the truth I told, and believed they were lies. It's already been seen and judged, by who I don't know... Damage has been done, and now you practice as Shel has frequently done with me, and from what I understand, others.

Deleting, rewriting, doing a complete plastic surgery on one's image, through careful writing. That's what Shel is good at, but that only strengthens the negative-type-a echo chamber.

I keep trying to echo back in a different manner than Shel is using here and now.

Whatdya know? Whadya filter out, is the larger question. That's what I've been trying to say an echo chamber is, and how the Blogdam can, but doesn't hafta, succumb to HUGE errors in thought/feeling/processing.

Ah well... ... ...

Uhhhh... Since I don't have a blog, how would you propose I "but take the discussion about Shelley and her site"??

And is Shelley a part of your echo chamber, Mr. Ito?? I submit she is, and a valuable piece of data regarding the EC has vanished into the Ether-Net... (Too bad Danah Boyd missed this one, to expand on her's and Dr. W's exchange with some verifiable facts, huh...;-)

No biggie, as I've had hundreds, and probably more like thousands of posts deleted and hidden from view, in this same manner.

Truth hurts, which is WHY people ARE and HAVE echo chambers.

Jay, Shelley is one of my toughest critics and anyone who reads my blog knows that it's pretty ironic to assert that she is part of my "echo chamber".

Anyway, I HATE deleting comments and this is only the third time I've ever done it. I'm very tolerant to attacks on me, but out-of-context, unprovoked attacks on others aren't part of my conversation.

Actually, danah boyd did not miss this one... And she recognizes this material as fantastic data... facts don't exist. ::wink::

It is not "ironic" in the least, Joi. You read each other, and that produces an echo.

I'd thought the aggregator readers and writers should form a co-op like the Orange Citrus Tree growers... Call it "Sonar", because you ping and it comes back, like a 2-way web is supposed to.

But both what is read and what is written goes through layers of interpretations, on both sides. Think layers, at times, thin layers at others. But how often does the perfect balance occur between mirroring what was pinged, and enhancing it into something slightly different (ie "new", or something "learned")...?? So that both sides maintain a balanced view of what is communicated?? (Hint: slim to none.)

The Echo Chamber was the TOPIC. It was also the CONTEXT. And it was good data for danah and Doc W.

You and Shel were at least comfortable enough to email. Have you talked on phone? Perhaps not. How often per week?? per month??

Dunno, but the fact that you and she HAD e'd, and you and I hadn't... Well, my inbound e isn't working, but I doubt if you followed up with me, first, to confirm ANYthing about what Shelley was saying.

(Which were lies.) So when she pinged you to delete MY "harrassing and embarassing and soley to cause hurt" posts, while doing exactly the same herself, in the process...

Well, if I were you, I'd-a believed her, because she IS a much closer echo than I am, given you e'd today. And, perhaps not coincidently, you both agree on the gay-marriage issue, right??

THAT IS A DEMONSTRATION OF HOW THE ECHO CHAMBER FUNCTIONS, between people and within oneself as well.

As I posted someplace, the APPARENT differences ("toughest critics" and all) are not so great as you might thin.. And certainly not so great that you didn't believe her lies and disbelieve the truths I wrote, any way.

Unprovoked? You ever been banned from commenting.. and banned from READING.. a blog of ANY kind before, yourself Joi?? (I've never heard-a it before, even.)

I was kind to Shel, is how I'd see it, if I was me.

JayT = James J. Toran

Also jt@ee.net

Also http://radio.weblogs.com/0101546/

Not that you were hiding it necessarily, but in the absence of a URL we need some other way to provide context beyond a nickname.

He's ranted many times on Sam's blog, see http://www.google.com/search?q=jt+site:intertwingly.net for background.

Haha...

"Think" layers, mebbe better than "thick" as I'd intended...;-D

And there's Mark jumping in, trying to be HELPFUL, as always...;-D I should-a said, my blog has expired and not used in several years, thanks for the correction.

My sister has asked I not write anything about her, and she has the misfortune of sharing the last name...;-) Ah well.

"Thanks", Mark. Once again, you show your true colors. (But you missed my RANTING days, as that stuff posted at Sam Ruby's place was just a little pissin' and moanin...;-)


Btw, I've moved since the last phone book came out, in case anybody was wondering.

Oooops, I missed the larger point(s)...

Instead of context, you Could try to understand what is being said. That can often be corn-fused by context, just as it can be helped.

Instead of context, you Might be better served by getting to know me. (My middle name is Jay, which is what I go by.) The most personal stuff I've ever written is gone, however. And a fair bit-a stuff I've written never got e'd or posted anywhere.

Even if you DID get a chance to read Everything I've ever written, (fat chance as there's a lot,) you still wouldn't know a whole lot about me, nor understand most likely. Each post is (attempted) to be a point-in-time thingee, so as situations change I'll (apparently) contradict myself in posting. (I'm a Dave Winer fan at times, at times not...) So mebbe easier to try to understand the CONTENT of what I've written, first.

Moreover, reading what someone writes is about THE poorest way of actually getting to know someone very well. Good place to start, though.


Finally, to Mark, you're lucky I'm gonna hafta quit posting, evidently... I'm physical weak and in poor health, especially lately, and am incapable of defending myself, physically. And I'm not much for "action language" anyway... But I've been told I have "a black-belt" in verbal Wing-anda-Prayer Chun. So when I say I could, most likely, verbally cut your male anatomy off and shove them down your throat, I'm not joking. I make an effort to be as gentle as the situation requires, but sometimes slip up.

(spit)

Although this last is, perhaps, out-of-context as not in the least directed to Joi, I believe it's appropriate to the content, meta-content and context of Mark's post. Btw, I looked at a couple blasts-from-the-past and I'm sure I've posted much more than 6 times. (Didn't see the exchange between me and Damian Speers (sp?) on quick skim.)

Furthermore, having looked at a couple, if you call THAT stuff a RANT, Mark, well... (Mebbe I'd better jes leave it at that.)

And what was wrong with the facts of the matter??

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