What’s the opposite of an echo?

Posted by on Sep 5, 2012
What’s the opposite of an echo?

The echo chamber. So many people love to hate the idea. Hang around Twitter for a bit, and you’ll invariably see someone complain about it. You’ll see people fret about it. You’ll see people walk away from it. You seldom see people defend it.

That’s good. And bad.

What’s the opposite of an echo?

In the sense it’s usually discussed in regards to thinking, the opposite of an echo amongst ideas is typically diversity. People often advocate for diversity of thoughts, ideas, and discussions. Hang around the same people with the same ideas talking about the same things and you risk entering the echo chamber where the same ideas are espoused and echoed around by everyone in the group. Or, you run the risk of groupthink.

So, people talk a great deal about diversity. I know I’ve advocated for introducing and entertaining as many different perspectives and ideas as possible when building programs or making important decisions. But, I’m starting to rethink that a bit.

I started listening to David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know this week, and chapter 4 discusses the notion of scoping diversity. The idea brings us back to the echo chamber. Weinberger doesn’t encourage us to entirely abandon or bemoan the presence of echo.

As Weinberger indicates in the chapter, there is a balance needed for diversity. It isn’t desirable to have too much or too little. There is a point where the right amount of diversity helps a group “work together and make itself smarter, as opposed to either falling into groupthink or falling apart because people just disagree too fundamentally.” I keep coming back to those last eight words.

In our great haste to flee the echo chamber, I fear too often conversations fall apart because we’ve run too far in the opposite direction. You see it all the time online. In politics. In discussions about education.

Try it. Go talk to someone with the opposite political affiliation as yours. Go talk religion with someone with an opposite worldview. Go convince a PC person they should become an Apple person. Go tell iPads to become netbooks.

You won’t get anywhere, and almost always, neither will the conversation.

This is why committee work is often such a challenge. We convene a group that is so divergent, the conversation can’t get past the first step from the gate. You need some degree of commonality. You need some amount of echo.

So, what’s the takeaway? That’s what I’ve been turning over in my mind. What does it mean for us? I think there’s something very important in Weinbergers four heuristics. Having had a little time to consider it, here are a few of my own reflections.

  1. Diversity is good, but to move an idea forward with a group might require accepting the idea there might be a “right amount.”
  2. It’s ok to have some echo in the chamber. We might be preaching to the choir, but many times the choir needs to hear the preaching just like anybody else. Or, at least, be in the same building to be able to hear the preaching.
  3. Consider diversity when creating a committee. Or, setting goals for the committee to accomplish. It’s a waste of time to hope the committee can advance an idea like how to use technology in learning if many in the group don’t see the value of using technology in the first place.
  4. It’s ok to let a conversation go when you realize it’s not going anywhere. Some people call this a taffy pull. A whole bunch of talking with nothing getting done.
  5. Use human moderators in the process to find some commonality when the chasm between positions is too great or to introduce differences when the echoes start getting too loud.
  6. Sometimes, too much diversity will make an issue fall apart.

It still doesn’t feel quite right to admit there’s such a thing as too much diversity. Or, the wrong kind of diversity. I’m not sure why that is.

Perhaps I’ll convene a committee to figure it out.


Image courtesy of TimOve

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