Thursday, June 11, 2020

You are What you Read: How to Manage your Personal Echo Chamber

Mr. Trump has often being accused of "lying" in his many speeches and tweets. For sure, much of what he says can be said to be "contrary to fact." But is the president really lying or is he simply stating what he thinks truth is? One man's lies are another man's truth. And the problem is that people tend to see the world according to the different echo chamber in which they live. Everyone seeks for facts that support their opinions. We badly need to take control of the information flow that we receive and I think we can do that. Let me show you how I try to do it by disclosing my personal information bubble.

Not long ago, I stumbled in a comment on "Quora" for the question, "Why do some people deny climate change? Here is a shortened version:

CO2 levels of 400 ppm being dangerously high are not accepted by scientists I find credible. There is no significant sea rise. The temperature has not changed by even 1 degree C. over the past century. Climate Change has not increased hurricanes or their intensity. I may rethink this if there is an undoubtedly measurable change in the level of the seas, or a decade long temperature rise.
Now, if you are an average reader of "Cassandra's Legacy" you'll agree with me every statement in this paragraph is wrong in the sense of being "contrary to fact." But I am sure that the writer of this paragraph is a good person. He signed with his full name and I could see his profile. I think that if he were a neighbor of mine we could be good friends (as long as we would avoid discussing climate science!). He truly believes in what he says and he thinks his vision of the world is the right one.

What's wrong here? How can it be that "truth" is so different depending on the viewpoint? The problem is that we all live in an "information bubbles" or "echo chambers" where views are shared with other members of the same bubble/chamber. And if everyone thinks that something is true, then it is very difficult for a single person to deny that something -- even to imagine that it could be completely false.

So, we badly need to take control of the information we receive. We need to select trusted sources and balance the voices we hear in such a way to see things from different viewpoints. Otherwise, we are easy prey for the simplest propaganda tricks, continuously used against us. Silly tricks, but they work. And they work very well. Can we avoid this trap? I think so, but it takes some work.

First of all, I believe that blogs are by far the best source of information we have. Of course, you know that blogs are somewhat out of fashion in a word where your attention span can't hardly digest more than one or two paragraphs. Blogs are supposed to be passé, and their long texts are static and don't fit in the narrow screens of cell phones. Nobody has time for blogs anymore.

It is a mishmash of some 66 blogs, not far from the "Dumbar Number," the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. It is a list that, most likely, won't make any sense to you, but it does to me. It changes all the time, but it maintains a "core" of blogs that I have been following for several years. "The Old Reader" doesn't allow alphabetic ordering the links, so the list starts with the blogs I have been following for a long time, those at the bottom are new entries (or re-entering the list after a hiatus).

So, what am I reading? You may notice that I am following some of the most subversive blogs of the Web: the pro-Russian Saker, the neo-Eurasianist site of Alexander Dugin, the ultra-communist site of Caitlin Johnstone, and the very subversive "Moon of Alabama." But take into account that I can't avoid being exposed, at least a little, to the standard mass media. So, I am not unaware of what's being said in the mainstream debate. But I can tell you that every time I open the site of a major newspaper, or of CNN, or of RT, I am surprised by the shallowness and the poverty of the information they provide (and not just that, you know better than me that they lie most of the time). And it helps little to try to balance what you read on CNN and RT: averaging two lies doesn't generate a truth.

Then, there are several scientific blogs I follow. Some are rather catastrophistic, such as the ones by Jem Bendell, by Gail Tverberg, or by Antonio Turiel (The Oil Crash). But I also tend to follow a good number of "climate denialist" sites, such as the arch-evil site of Alan Watts (Watts Up With That). Indeed, they are evil, but in a certain way funny. And I learn a lot from their posts. I also follow Roy Spencer, though I disagree with him, he is still a valid scientist. The site kept by Judith Curry is normally boring, but it often provides interesting links. I also follow the Italian "New Ice Age," they are totally cocoa bananas and, fortunately, they don't seem to be so active anymore. But they made death threats against me in the past, so I'd better keep track of what they are up to.

Then, there is a group of blogs that I consider as true gems, but not easily classifiable in political or scientific terms, such as the Kelebekler blog (in Italian), the Empathy site by Chuck Pezhensky, the Gaianism site by Eric Assadurian, the Blogmire by Rob Slane. And many other blogs in different languages, it is truly a zoo. Over the years, I found that I often tend to follow blogs I disagree with. The only kind I can't possibly stomach are those promoting racism, violence, suprematism, oppression, intimidation, and the like -- sorry, those won't make it to my list.

So, what do you think? Are these blogs harming my mental sanity? Maybe. For sure, many people tend to think that I am "strange," especially those who watch TV every day and, if you read the Cassandra blog, you probably understand why. I am hard to classify as being "left" or "right." I don't even fall into the category of the "catastrophists" because I believe that collapse can be reversed. That seems to anger some people who are convinced that it is a good thing that we are all going to die very soon. But, frankly, I am not in a hurry.

There is more, but I don't think you are especially interested in my personal blog preferences. I just wanted to point out to you what I believe is a better way to manage your information bubble. You may give it a try! And if you have stories, comments, or suggestions on information bubbles, we can discuss the subject in the comments.


    Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)