Minds change rarely. I wonder a lot about what happens when they do, and I often ask people this question:

What’s something you believed deeply, for a long time, and then changed your mind about?

This often doesn’t go well. You’ll ask me, naturally enough, for an example — some belief that I once held and then revised. But since any topic I offer as an example intersects with your existing belief system in some way, we wind up talking about that topic and my original question goes unanswered.

It’s easy to discuss positions you support, or oppose, within the framework of your existing belief system. It’s much harder to consider how that belief system has changed, or could change.

Facebook has become a laboratory in which to observe this effect. I’m connected to people across the continuum of ideologies. At both extremes I see the same behavior. News stories are selected, refracted through the lens of ideology, and posted with comments that I can predict with great certainty. These utterances, by definition, convey little information. Nor are they meant to. Their purpose is to reinforce existing beliefs, not to examine them.

Echo chambers aren’t new, of course, and they have nothing to do with the Internet. We seek the like-minded and avoid the differently-minded. On Facebook, though, it’s not so easy to avoid the differently-minded. I regard that as a feature, not a bug. I’m open to re-examining my own beliefs and I welcome you to challenge them. But if you’re not similarly open to re-examining your own beliefs then I can’t take you seriously.


See also the Edge Annual Question for 2008: What Have You Changed Your Mind About?