A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Social Media, Information Overload, and Confirmation Bias

I have spoken before on this blog about confirmation bias, which affects all of us. Nowhere is confirmation bias exhibited more clearly than on social media, such as Facebook. Those on the conservative end of the theological and/or political spectrum tend to post links to stories that make their side look good as well as posting things that cast aspersions and even evil on those with whom they disagree. They also tend to ignore that information that counts against their views on various issues. Those on the liberal end of the theological and/or political spectrum do the same thing. (I have suggested before that the modern conservative/liberal spectrum is not Christian, but that's another post for another time.)

One thing that postmodernism has rightly taught us is that it is impossible to stand in a neutral place. We are all bias and there is nothing wrong with that, but we must also be ready and willing to subject our views to critique, which is impossible to do if we are unwilling to consider seriously different perspectives. David Kemp notes that part of the problem is that we are so inundated with information that no one has time to sort through it all. It simply becomes easier to read and listen to those sources that are like-minded. Of course, I think it's more than this. I think most of us human beings prefer to believe what we already believe and do not really want to consider that we might be wrong or at least partially wrong on something-- and even worse, we absolutely cannot accept that the ignorant, evil, dishonest people on the other side might indeed be right. It's emotionally satisfying to have enemies to stereotype.

Kemp suggests some ways in which we can attempt to overcome our confirmation bias:
*If you regularly read blogs for news and opinions, add one or two that comes from a different perspective. Not a radically different one (as that will likely make you even more staunch in your position), but one that offers views you might normally dismiss or not consider. 
*Reflect. Most of the political issues that are most controversial have no easy, black-and-white answer. Ask yourself why someone would hold an opinion adverse to your own. Why would some people dedicate their lives and careers to trying to have same-sex marriages recognized? Why would corporate executives seek to defend their earnings against redistribution by the government? 
*Spend time with people whose views you disagree, but whose company you don’t mind. Mere exposure to someone whose views differ from your own can help both of you understand the other's position, even if your fundamental views don't change.
Of course, many folks will not do so. It's much more comfortable to simply be affirmed in one's views than challenged to rethink them, but for those who are truly willing to subject their own biases to critique will become part of the wise minority whose views will be heard and considered while everyone else just exists in their own echo chambers.

No comments: