AM I IN AN ECHO CHAMBER?
Echo chambers are structures which manipulate the trust of their members. An echo chamber member is taught to systematically distrust outsiders. In this way, echo chambers are far more dangerous than mere filter bubbles, in which members simply miss out on hearing outsiders. An echo chamber is something like a cult; members are alienated from trusting any outsider, which, in turn, wildly inflates the degree of trust they have for insiders. Echo chambers operate parasitically on our need to trust others, to trust institutions, to trust engineers and scientists and journalists and all the other gatherers and interpreters of evidence. But a person can enter into an echo chamber following rational procedures. If they grew up in an echo chamber, they can follow the usual procedures of trust — in their parents, in their early educational institutions — and be trapped in a self-sustaining epistemic trap. This raises an obvious question: how do I know if I’m in an echo chamber or not? Echo chambers have many techniques for disguising themselves. They can offer a world-view in which the outside world is actively malicious, thus justifying their systematic discrediting of outsiders. But the mere presence of such a world-view isn’t enough, for there are cases in which that world-view is simply correct. Consider the position of resistance fighters in Nazi Germany, for example. Are their emotional, rational, or social signifiers of echo chambers, and is there any way to guarantee that I’m not in one?
C. Thi Nguyen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley University. His research includes topics in social epistemology, value theory, practical reasoning and aesthetics. He is interested in the ways in which our rationality and agency are socially embedded â€“ about how our ways of thinking and deciding are conditioned by features of social organization, community, technology, and art practices. He has written about trust, intellectual autonomy, and the problems associated with identifying the right experts. He’s also written about cultural appropriation, pornography, and the ethics of competition. His current research projects involve thinking about the dangers of quantifying values and gamification. His book, Games: Agency as Art is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. He received his PhD from UCLA, while also working as a food writer for the L.A. Times.