Echo Chambers: The Downfall of Intellectualism

 The typical college campus today expects their students to interact with their peers and each other in a productive way. Ideas that travel, bouncing around different minds being revised and edited, tend to be more logical and more well thought out than the ideas that stay in one mind or a few. As time has passed since these institutions opened, the incoming students’ sensitivity to opposing viewpoints has grown. Previous coddling of the millennial generation can cause the spread and flow of ideas to be slowed, and sometimes shut down. Echo chambers surrounding college campuses adapt their message to reach out to students and drag them into a closed-minded way of thinking. College students should be proactive in finding and understanding opposing viewpoints from others on campus and reacting to them positively, instead of ignoring or silencing them.

An echo chamber is a media-related stream of information that tailors to one specific way of thinking. It blocks out ideas that are counterintuitive to their mission, to get college students to accept only their ideals. With so many of these popping up all over the country, it can be difficult to avoid them. President Obama explains his opinion to us in this excerpt, “I’ve heard of some college campuses where … [students]don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women…and I’ve got to tell you …  I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views” (Lee). By agreeing with these groups and accepting their information as the only acceptable information, colleges students are being turned away from positive debate that arises from controversial topics, “There is a round-the-clock source of information for those viewers, where all news is conveniently presented and analyzed to fit their world view” (Stascavage).

Let’s say that you are talking to someone about a certain subject and the two of you are on completely different sides of the spectrum on the topic. How should you react to your friend’s ideas and reasoning? Taking a step outside to see a bigger picture than just your own is one way. By putting aside your pride of always being right, and seeing which side of the argument has more evidence, or support, to back up the claim, you are consciously taking an objective point of view, which is free of personal bias. Objective thinking is highly promoted in the college community and spirited debate, without anger and rudeness, can seriously enhance your ability to understand the world around you and prepare you better for a career in the future, where ideas do not always match.

Bryan Stascavage has personal experience as an author, and shares how his article on the Black Lives Matter movement was picked out and attacked as an unpopular opinion by a small group of college students at Wesleyan. He warns of the effect this might have in the future, “When they graduate, they will take these values to their respective industries. And if the recent upheaval surrounding my college newspaper is foreshadowing, the news media industry may have a problem on its hands” (Stascavage).

There is an old Chinese proverb that I believe applies to many students attending universities today, “You cannot fill a cup that is already full” (O’ Brien). The cup in this metaphor, is the mind and the knowledge that you possess. Many college students feel as if they know it all, or enough to refute information given by someone else. This way of thinking can only leave you with the answers you already have, and nothing more will ever be learned. Those who can teach you are usually glad to do so, but the cup must be emptied enough to fill with the information they want to give, “You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup” (O’Brien). To empty the cup is the same as putting opinion behind you and taking what the mentor has to say into deep consideration and try to understand what they are teaching you and why.

Seeing as we aren’t in China, this metaphor can serve a more modernized purpose, that learning in a college setting requires the ability to interact with others, collaborate, and debate controversial ideas, instead of only sticking to what you are comfortable with and know to be true to yourself, “It’s not shielding yourself from potential trauma or harm,” she said. “It’s shielding yourself from a viewpoint that you don’t agree with, plain and simple.” (Lee). Why would you pay thousands of dollars every year to go to a place where they only teach you what you know already? The college experience as a whole is tainted and useless if there is no room for debate or room to grow and learn.

Along with that, the college experience is not always about picking one or two topics and focusing only on them. It is important for students to be able to branch out and join into activities and interests that will expand their general knowledge and well-roundedness. Being able to perform many different jobs will open up more doors as options than being very good at one or two things will. Not to say that that is the only approach, but having more widespread intellect can transfer over into almost any workplace and set you up for success in the future.

Students that live on campus are very lucky to have so many resources available to them to interact and connect with the local and outside world. They should just be careful who they take information from before adopting it as their only way of thinking.

Works Cited

Flaxman, Seth. “Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Online News Consumption.” Oxford                 University Press. Oxford Journals. March 22, 2016.

Lee, Kenneth. “Safe Spaces or Echo Chambers? Understanding the Discourse Surrounding

Georgetown’s Political Climate” georgetownvoice.com. October 22, 2015.

O’ Brien, Barbara. “Empty Your Cup” buddhism.about.com. About religion. May 10, 2016.

Stascavage, Bryan. “The Problem with Echo Chambers on Campus and                                                      Beyond” nytimes.com  New York Times. March 20, 2016.

Sunstein, Cass. “Democracy and Filtering” acm.org. Communications of the ACM.                              December, 2004.

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