The Echo Chamber

The Echo Chamber

Those educated in studying people have observed a phenomenon they describe as the “echo chamber.” You might not have heard the term but you probably know the symptoms. Your friend posts an article on Facebook explaining some conspiracy theory. No matter what evidence or arguments to the contrary are presented in the comments, your friend remains convinced that the Martians are manipulating presidential politics. Or perhaps you are simply trying to argue for the social benefit of the nuclear family but regardless of how well you articulate your position, your fellow employee simply will not admit that how you define the family makes a difference in society. More than likely, conversations such as these have been brought to you from an echo chamber.
The term “echo chamber” describes an environment in which all voices are saying the same thing. The reason the Martian conspiracy theorist is unwilling to consider the evidence contrary to his claims is because he has surrounded himself with so many voices echoing his own opinions that he cannot even imagine being wrong. He reads books by conspiracy theorists. He hangs out at a local science fiction convention where he hears speeches from people who claim to have been abducted. He follows the blogs and twitter feeds of self-labeled experts in extra-terrestrial activity. Armed with such a mountain of affirmation from these people, he knows the “uninformed” commenters don’t stand a chance of changing his mind. As far as he’s concerned, some of them might even be controlled by the extra-terrestrial beings. This man is not caught in the Twilight Zone. He’s caught in the echo chamber.
In the digital age, the effect has only become more pronounced. Before the internet, finding someone who agreed with your ideas, whether run-of-the mill or altogether outlandish, demanded face-to-face conversation. It took work. Today, if I think we should defund the military in favor of the space program, a simple Google search will connect me with hundreds of articles, blog posts, and social media shares from people who support my cause. Forget searching out other perspectives, I only want my opinion to be confirmed—not informed. My Google search has confirmed what I knew before I even thought to make the search. I am right. And therein lies the gravest danger of the echo chamber. It subtly accepts a presupposition of basic rightness. If a source disagrees with you, you mark it as false and then go about proving its falseness. This is a soul-damning heresy. No one whose search for truth presupposes their inherent rightness will ever find eternal life.
Although we believers affirm our own brokenness and cast ourselves on Christ as our only hope for ever being truly right, we can still find ourselves drawn deeper and deeper into an echo chamber of our own making. With good intentions, we limit our intake of information (reading, friends, social media, television, etc.) to only those voices that agree with our own theological positions. While this might seem especially prudent, constantly hearing from those who agree with us can subtly enforce a presupposition of our own rightness. The Scriptures then begin to loose their distinct voice and the interpretations of our own personal ‘echo chamber’ can begin to take precedence to letting Scripture speak for itself. We can become right first, reasonable second. The voices of Christians past whose historical perspective could speak prophetically to the vices of our own age are ignored since their voice does not affirm our Western culture. Other denominations of Christians are seen as enemies to be ignored or conquered simply because, well, we are right and they claim that we are wrong. By allowing ourselves the luxury of only listening to our own voice, we can unknowingly accept a presupposition contrary to the gospel.
The remedy to this Christian echo chamber is the Gospel it contradicts. Preach it to yourself. Let the Spirit remind you that your righteousness is not inherent but imputed. Then as you pursue truth, listen deeply to people who disagree with you. Read broadly to inform your position, not simply to confirm it. Ask God for wisdom to know how to handle the truth you possess in a way that brings glory to Him. You might just find yourself on the outside of an echo chamber you never knew you were in.