Friday, April 25, 2014

The newspaper habit: Avoid confirmation bias and escape the echo chamber


Pay attention, especially to things you disagree with or don't understand. If you agree with most of what you read, it means you're not reading enough of the right things. It doesn't mean you're wrong, just narrow.
Let's broaden things a bit.
On the internet you're in total control of what you read. Two problems show up. Confirmation bias and the echo chamber.
Confirmation bias: If you're looking something up and it matches what you think already, you're going to accept it and stop looking. If, on the other hand, what you find doesn't match up with what you already think you'll keep looking until you find something you agree with.
Echo chamber: The internet lets you read about what you're interested in. The media sites that you like will tend to have news and opinions that reinforce your views. The people you chat with all agree with you.
An extreme example to make the point: If all you read is the forums on the Justin Bieber fan club page, you're likely to conclude that everyone else loves his music too. The people who disagree don't post there.
Staying inside the echo chamber makes it pretty easy to be oblivious to things outside your sphere of interest that impact you.
That's where the newspaper habit comes in. Reading local newspapers brings you a whole host of information about the community you're in.
It'll tell you what's going on in your community. You'll notice the things that interest you and skip the things that don't. You'll read the headlines, glance at the pictures and buy the chicken that's on sale.
If there's something else you need to know, the newspaper will have it. If, for example, main street has been torn up for repairs, the newspaper will let you know, even if it's not your sports or news aggregator of choice.
There might even be opinions in there that you disagree with. That's healthy. Breaking out of the echo chamber means sometimes exposing yourself to new ideas. Other ideas will cross pollinate with your old ones and you might end up with something new.
Broaden your worldview. Have enough confidence in your ideas to test them against dissenting opinions. Changing your ideas based on new information doesn't make you weak. It makes you flexible, adaptable, and more likely to be right.
At the very least you won't make plans to drive down main street until it's open again.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. My issue comes not with dissenting views, which I welcome and find invigorating. What causes me trouble is dissenting views twisting facts, ideology dictating said views/facts, and lazy writing/reporting. Reading local newspapers (and watching local news) makes me angry. Angry enough to negatively effect my quality of life in a serious way. It's not just views I disagree with either. An article I agree with (say, one supporting education) can still make me angry if they're twisting things or misunderstanding fundamental concepts. The anger is likely rooted in frustration with the dominant discourse, which is strongly evident in mainstream news. My best way around this, thus far, has been to be generally disagreeable and argumentative to all of my friends. That way, they send me vetted, well written, well conceived, and well researched articles that disagree with me. It's glorious. And fortunately, I still have my parents to tell me when main street is closed. :)

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