Strategies for Escaping the Echo Chamber

After the 2016 U.S. election ended, we all got a rude awakening to just how bad the echo chambers and filter bubbles have gotten. Our social networks are streams of one-sided news stories. News outlets are increasingly biased. Viral fake news spreads like wildfire and the implications are scary.

In light of recent events, I decided to make a conscious effort to escape from the echo chambers and redesign my consumption of news to try to get a better sense for what is a reflection of true reality and what is not.

filter-bubbles-and-truth

In case you find yourself in the same situation and would like to try to escape your echo chamber, here are some of my strategies:

1. De-newsed Facebook: One by one, I removed every single news source I encountered from Facebook using the “Hide” feature in the upper right hand corner of shared posts. This means I removed news sources I considered biased as well as those I consider legit. I will no longer allow Facebook to decide what news I see and what news I do not see. I just don’t want to see any news on Facebook. Period. On the bright side, Facebook has returned to a state where I actually do see pictures of friends, rants about “new math” and cute cat photos – which is a nice haven from what it had become. This removed my largest echo chamber source of news.

In case you don’t know how to turn off feeds from sites in Facebook, here’s what that looks like:

hide-in-facebook

2. One reliable news source: I read a single reliable news source each morning (for me that is the New York Times. In particular, I read using the “Today’s Paper” app, which delivers the paper in a very similar fashion to the printed version, without ads. This is important because if you just visit a news site, you still fall victim to following only the stories you’re likely to click on instead of seeing a list of all the stories of the day. While the NY Times might not be your choice for most unbiased news, I figure this is balanced by living in conservative Utah. Don’t judge. Also see #3.

3. Highly-biased contrast bumpers: After reading my daily dose of news, I  go to Blue Feed Red Feed, a project from the Washington Post. This provides the most extreme liberal and conservative “viral” posts on a variety of topics. While seeing some of these stories makes me a bit ill, I find it better than seeing delivery from friends and family on Facebook (with additional commentary from them that makes me even more ill). What I’m starting to find is that often both “sides” often tell an incomplete story, the part of the story that makes them look good or the other side look bad. One day last week, the blue feed had stories like “Trump has only lobbyists in his cabinet” and the red feed provided stories like “Trump fires all lobbyists from his cabinet.” Reality was somewhere between those two stories – Trump did seem to have developed a cabinet with a lot of lobbyists AND he then fired most of them.

“Truth” is somewhere in between the bumpers of the most liberal stories and the most conservative stories. But knowing what the bumpers are on these extremes helps me rationally evaluate the stories I see throughout the day and also helps me with #4.

4. Avoidance of clear click-bait: Armed with the most atrociously viral clickbait of the day (from step #3) I can more clearly avoid stories I see on Twitter and banner links to stories that are the viral nonsense of the day. Clicking on this stuff means the world will just produce more of it. Making these sites profitable to advertisers is how they stay in business. If I had not read some of the viral headlines on Blue Feed Red Feed, I would be more susceptible to clicking on stories that are obviously designed to goad one side or the other.

5. No TV News: TV news is designed to be entertainment. So if you’re watching TV News, I’d really consider stopping all together. You don’t realize how bad it is until you remove yourself for a while. When I am forced to watch it in airports, I find it hard to believe that it provides any real value other than making us all terrified of each other (see #6).

6. Actually talk to people who are not like you: I am making a more active effort (see Lean in to the Discomfort) to try to talk to other people who are not “just like me” more: At the gym, in the grocery store, and while out on walks. I am trying to seek out those who are from other generations, other educational backgrounds, other religions, etc. and engage in conversation. We have got to put down our echo-chamber-filled devices and apps and get to know the people in our physical proximity again.

Those are my strategies, what are yours? And if you don’t think you’re in an echo chamber … well, how do you know you’re not?

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Ignite on the Learn This Button

After this presentation, my husband told me it was the best one he has ever seen me do.  The Ignite format is 5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds each.  Please watch, and if you want to see Socrait get built, please forward it to everyone you know, post it on Facebook, share it on Twitter and GooglePlus.  Thanks 🙂

Ignite Great Lakes: Where’s the Learn This Button?

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Timeline for the Rise of Data

When Wolfram Research set out to build Wolfram Alpha, they set out to make all knowledge computable.  Last week they published a Timeline of Systematic Data and the Development of Computable Knowledge.

You can interact with the timeline online, but far cooler (I think) will be hanging the 5-foot poster of the timeline ($7.25 + shipping) that links data and computable knowledge with history, science, and culture on the walls of our Math ELITEs.

The blog post about the timeline is pretty interesting too, discussing which civilizations have tracked the most data.

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Remembering What You’ve Read

While trying to get all my Kindle devices in re-sync (iPad, Kindle, Android, Laptop, and Desktop), I discovered a feature of the browser-based Kindle app that I wasn’t aware of.

Remember the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve?  In 1885, Ebbinghaus showed that we need repeated exposure to information to store it in biological memory … and pretty much we’ve been forgetting things ever since.

I try to build reflection into my learning routines (to take advantage of the Ebbinghouse curve) by doing things like rereading my tweets and the end of the week, organizing ideas into mindmaps, and composing blog posts that bring together ideas.  This Kindle Browser feature helps with that (at least, it will if you remember to use it).

“Daily Review is a tool to help you review and remember the most significant ideas from your books.  It shows you flashcards with either your highlights and notes or the popular highlights from one of your books.  Only books that you have marked as “read” are eligible for review, and Daily Review will take you through all of your read books, one per day.”

The Kindle Daily Reader is getting closer to what I would want Socrait to do, but it’s missing the recall portion.  This app provides the highlights or notes that you have marked important, but you only process them as recognition items.  I still think a forced recall from memory would be more powerful.  Nonetheless, kudos to Kindle for building in this feature … now when can I have it on my Android App?  🙂

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Sanity in the Age of Digital Overload

I often conduct a workshop called “Organize Your Digital Self” and the last section of the workshop is on staying sane in a world with so many ways to go into digital overload.  Here are a few of my favorites apps and programs for staying sane:

StayFocusd is a Chrome Extension that lets you choose websites (like Facebook or casual games sites) that you want to limit your time on.  You decide how much time is enough, and then StayFocusd will warn you when you’re getting close to your limit and cut you off for the day once you’ve surpassed it.  Sure, you can open another browser, but if the point is to be more cognizant of how you’re wasting time, it does a good job reminding you.

WorkRave is  designed to help prevent repetitive stress injuries (like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) but it also works very well to force you to take a break.  If you’re one of those people that can sit for hours working at the computer without even realizing that an hour has gone by, try a program like WorkRave.  You can decide how long you want to work in one sitting, how long you want to break, and how long you want your “snooze” to be before you really have to take that break.  Use your break times to talk to your family, spend time with your pets, go breath in some fresh air, get the mail, etc. The point is to force yourself to get up from your computer and do something else.  I’d experiment with the optimum continuous focused work time – for some it is 45 min, for others it is 90 minutes.

RescueTime is a bit like having your very own “big brother.”  Once you install it, it can track how much time you spend where on your computer (not just the Internet, but also your desktop, Windows or Mac).  So if you think you’re spending 3 hours a day answering email, it can verify that or it might tell you that the 3 hours is actually spent in Farmville.  RescueTime can also block distracting sites, so you can kill two birds with one stone – track time and block sites that are wasting time.  If you’re into the Quantified Self movement or you want students to track some data of their own for a project, the time-tracking reports and graphs from RescueTime are great (see video RescueTime Reports).  To measure just your online activities, there is now a RescueTime Chrome Extension too.

Part of staying sane is not becoming distracted and following link after link “down the rabbit hole” of time suck.  Readability is a great little browser extension for Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.  Their mission? “With one click, turn any webpage into a clean comfortable reading view.” Not only does Readability strip out all the extra links and advertisements on an article you’re trying to read, but it allows you to set your preferences for margins, background, text color, font, font size, columns, and more.  Subscribers to Readability can save web articles for later reading, send articles to a mobile device, and sync with Kindle.  The video that follows is a 1-minute tour of Readability.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dropbox, which is one of those programs that has changed my workflow and contributed greatly to my ease of mind.  This is one that you will have to pay for if you want more than 2 GB of space (and trust me, you will).  Here’s the idea: if you’re working on multiple computer systems, dropbox makes a file folder on each computer and a mirror image of that folder “in the cloud.”   Whatever you drop into the folder on your computer, that file is mirrored in your Dropbox account in the cloud and then on the other computers synced to your account.  The beauty of this is that you can edit a file on your home computer, close it, drive to work, and after you boot up the computer there, the new version of the file will be sitting in the Dropbox on that computer.  You can also access any of the files in your Dropbox on any computer and on mobile devices by logging in to your Dropbox account.  This is invaluable when you suddenly have to present off someone else’s computer.  The ease of mind comes from knowing that if a disaster occurs and all your computers are lost, the Dropbox with all your important stuff will still be sitting there in the cloud waiting for you.  Dropbox has gotten some negative press lately over encryption practices, but the reality is that their encryption practices are better than most of our private security practices (if your work requires a security clearance, try another system).

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