Perils of an Echo Chamber (Not Actually About the Election)

So in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 12-18 months, I’ll explain that here in the US, we’re coming to the end of a long, painful election process. (Not that the US is the center of the universe, but I do know people are watching. I’ve heard opinions on the candidates from friends around the world, thus the hiding under a rock assumption.)

As far as I’m aware, all my friends hold the same strong opinion as I do on which candidate will make a better president. Everyone in my Twitter feed, everyone whose blog I follow on Tumblr–we’re all agreed.

But obviously someone out there thinks the other nominee is a better option. That’s how one becomes the nominee, after all–people vote. Lots of people voted for the other candidate to be nominated, and a whole lot of someones are planning to vote for that other candidate in the general election, according to the polls that have me checking in several times a day. (Just after typing that, in fact, I ran off to fivethirtyeight.com to check in.)

Only one of those other-candidate voter-someones wanders through my Facebook timeline sometimes. That one person is family. If we were not related through my daughter, we never would have met, let alone become Facebook friends.

echo chamber: any forum for communication in which all members agree with everyone else. See also preach to the choir. ~online slang dictionary

In some ways, social media being an echo chamber is┬ánot a problem. Most people don’t go to Facebook to learn, after all. They want to check in with friends, see what family are up to, have a look at what other people find interesting. Cat videos, baby pictures, easy-seeming recipes for absolute gutbusters…these are the things reliably found on Facebook.

The problem, of course, comes when people are just as selective in their news intake as they are in their suppliers of cat videos. When we want to be right more than we want to be informed. Confirmation bias helps here–we only see the stuff that agrees with us, and we tune out the rest.

To the woe of my Facebook friends, I’ve tried to argue with my family member. I’ve presented facts. I’ve explained what constitutes a legitimate source, and why. I’ve tried reason, again and again.

Turns out, my approach was completely wrong. What I’m fighting is the “backfire effect,” and the more I push, the stronger it gets. Just like the waves in that one episode of ST:NG where–

Ahem.

Apparently what I should have been doing, was not throwing facts and sources at this person. If you want someone to accept facts, you have to give them in a way that doesn’t make them defensive.

Like, say…in a story.

Did you guess I was going to come around to that?

Other things going around my feeds of late have been #BlackLivesMatter and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I remember when my daughter read Roar of Thunder, Hear My Cry. A book that changed the world for me was Huckleberry Finn. Before that, I knew about slavery, but I didn’t know a damn thing, you know?

One of my favorite reviews on any of my books is one for Knight Errant.

“The story is so well written that I easily forgot that the book followed a gay couple. The gender of the Taro and Rafe took a sideline to the budding romance between the too characters.”

I read that and I think, “I changed something for that reader. I made the world a better place.”

Stories are important. Stories are one way we can get past our defensive reactions to really see someone else’s perspective. That’s why it’s so important to have diverse books, to fight for more diverse casting of movies. To see that there’s more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

That said, I don’t believe I’ll be running out to buy a copy of opposing candidate’s book. I think I’ll just find a few members of the opposing party to follow on Twitter.

…after the election.

I know you’ve read a book that changed your world. Tell me about it!

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