Climb out of the echo chamber

When was the last time you allowed someone to change your mind? When did a well-reasoned argument last cause you to pause and say, actually… maybe I’m wrong?

We need to listen more to people with different viewpoints and experiences: people who like draping their houses with England flags, migrants who are seeking work in the north east, our poor, our rich, people who prefer to cycle, people who prefer to drive, northerners, southerners…


But sadly, opportunities to listen and moments for self-reflection are increasingly rare in our hyper-connected world. The power of search and social media has enabled us to seek out and follow only those opinions that support our position and world-view, not challenge them.

Research confirms that it’s only human behaviour to seek approval for what we believe. Many people know that cigarettes cause cancer and other diseases, yet continue to smoke. Why? It’s what social psychologist Leon Festinger called cognitive dissonance: when our beliefs are challenged, we seek to eliminate the resulting tensions. So many smokers go searching for knowledge that points to the positive effects of smoking, like preventing weight gain.

The web allows us to connect with people around the world. It should – and often does – promote greater collaboration and sharing of ideas, opening our eyes to new perspectives and experiences.

But as the web becomes increasingly tailored to the individual, we’re more likely than ever to be served personalised content with which we feel most comfortable. That comfortable content is rarely anything that challenges our viewpoint.

Instead of showing us everything and letting us decide, Facebook and Google serve us what they think we want to see, placing us in a bubble of reinforced beliefs – a “virtual echo chamber” where dissenting voices are condemned as trolls. My own Twitter feed is full of warring tribes, whether the topic is migration or parking spaces.

We need to climb out of the echo chamber. It’s why we launched a magazine – not because we’re nostalgic for print (though our magazines do smell, look and feel lovely) but because it seems the most appropriate medium to present readers with a range of alternative perspectives and viewpoints about the north east.

And it’s why we’re launching a series of quarterly events where we, along with our readers, will meet to hear and exchange more of these perspectives and viewpoints. The first of these cross-disciplinary conversations, on Friday 12th December, will be about our north east cities and towns. We’re bringing together council leaders, architects, local businesses, cycling campaigners, town planners, writers, academics and artists to share thoughts and ideas on how we can make our cities and towns better places to live and work – for all.

At Northern Correspondent, we believe in a north east that is excited, energised and empowered by diversity of thought and opinion – a region that has the self-confidence to face its future with open eyes, ears and hearts.

Ian Wylie is editor of Northern Correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter.

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(Views expressed on our website and in our magazines and emails are not necessarily endorsed by Northern Correspondent.)