Echo Chamber or Comfort Zone?

Echo chamber has become a bit of a buzzword over the past few years. The basic idea is a space where everyone is saying and supporting the same ideas. People in an echo chamber are never challenged to think beyond their assumptions, to see a different perspective, or to learn new things that don’t agree with them.

Many people agree that echo chambers are bad. That we need restructure social media  to reduce the echo chamber affect. That it is unhealthy to be in an echo chamber.

I agree with most of the criticisms of echo chambers. But I think it’s time to reframe the idea, because the criticism is also missing some of the benefits of echo chambers.

Benefits? Of echo chambers? Yes, really. Though I don’t blame you for doubting. After all, everything we’ve heard about echo chambers is bad. It’s almost as if we are in an echo chamber–about echo chambers!

Social Comfort Zones

But what if we didn’t say echo chamber? What if, instead, we called is a “social comfort zone”?

Comfort zones are already a familiar idea. From school, to relationships, to work, we sometimes need to “reach outside your comfort zone”. And when we are stressed or sick or worried, we sometimes need to “retreat into your comfort zone.”

The comfort zone isn’t inherently  good or bad. It is a place where we are comfortable. It has all the same features of an echo chamber–it prevents us from growing if we stay there too long, it only holds the things we are comfortable with, it doesn’t challenge us, etc. But it also has good features that we don’t associate with the idea of “echo chambers”. Comfort zones are places we can relax. Comfort zones are low stress. Comfort zones help us heal.

What we call “echo chambers” are really social comfort zones. They have all the negative traits of comfort zones in work or daily life. But also all the positives.

What’s in a name?

Once we acknowledge echo chambers as social comfort zones, we can start having a healthier discussion about them.

One that encourages people to reach outside their comfort zone and expose themselves to other perspectives and ideas. But also one that doesn’t shame people for having and using a comfort zone. One that recognizes that some people live in places or situations where they are constantly exposed to other perspectives and their online or IRL comfort zones are a necessary part of how they manage their stress and care for themselves.

I want to give a shout out to Gargron and for inadvertantly inspiring this post. And a shout out to the Fediverse in general for being a place that not only allows but encourages multiple accounts with lots of options for privacy controls so folks can have a comfort zone and a stretch zone on the same social network.

 

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I’m a Quora Top Writer?

I’ve been answering questions on Quora (and much more rarely asking them) for about five years now. Quora has been one of my go-to sites for research (one of the reasons I rarely ask questions is most of the time someone else already did!) as well as a fun place to share my thoughts and opinions on things that I have experience in. But I’m was rather surprised to log into Quora last week and find a message telling me I’d been named a Quora Top Writer for 2018.

I never wanted to be a Quora Top Writer

When I first learned about Quora’s Top Writer’s program I spent maybe 5 minutes wondering if I should try to become one. And quickly decided no. The topics I was interested in answering questions for were too niche and I wasn’t interested in answering tons and tons of questions. In fact, after five years on Quora, I’ve answered 631 questions. A respectable number, it averages to about one question every three days. But nowhere near the thousands of answers some folks have.

I didn’t see any real benefit to being a Top Writer, I wasn’t interested in making Quora a major time sink, and while I have a competitive streak and like taking on challenges for the sake of challenges, I’m not one of those people who can’t pass up a dare.

So I’m still surprised and kind of bemused that the feather in my cap (or quill on my profile) I was never interested in getting is now mine.

So What Have I Been Doing on Quora?

Unsurprisingly, given my focus the past several years, most of my answers (over 100) have been in the topic of Polyamory.

I’ve also done a lot of writing on Religion, LGBTQ+ and various related topics  and various topics related to mental illness.

In the past few months, I’ve been very active on the Autism topic.

Like with Polyamory on Purpose, some of my answers from years ago don’t necessarily reflect my opinions now. But if you are interested you can check out the topics I’ve been following on Quora here.

I Really Like Quora

I think the reason I ended up a Quora Top Writer is that I like the site so I spend a lot of time there. And when I’m on there reading what other people have to say, I almost always find one or two questions I’d like to answer too.

One thing I love about Quora is it is a place I can give free rein to my long-windedness. Folks on quora not only accept but often appreciate long, in-depth answers. Especially on complex topics. Which isn’t to say all my answers go on forever. One of my early answers on Quora was to a question about if someone should shave their girlfriend’s eyebrows while she was sleeping. My answer was a single sentence:

Only if you don’t want to have a girlfriend when she wakes up.

Quora is also one of the few places on the intenet that you actually should read the comments. Quora’s Be Nice Be Respectful policy has a lot of problems. (I mean a LOT of problems.) But it has done a good job of keeping trolls, harassment, and ad hominem attacks to a minimum. So MOST comments are either a useful discussion of the answer or adding additional information to a good answer.