The Invisible College


Tour-de-force of an entry over at Monkeymagic on the echo-chamber hoohaa:

“Echo Chambers have a valuable pedigree in the Invisible College. Just as with the Invisible College, by allowing like-minded individuals to argue over, agree over, and develop new ideas, Echo Chambers facilitate new thinking and specialism. But Echo Chambers do more: they are visible, open access versions of Invisible Colleges, and as such allow generalism. Their visibility allows those same like-minded individuals to look out and see where their thinking lives on the landscape. Their open access allows others to look in and appraise and critique.

Nuking Echo Chambers is, to use an -ahem – gentler phrase, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. How about giving people the benefit of the doubt, allowing for them to be curious? Why not just concentrate on building tools for better visibility and access?”

Last year I wrote something while at the BBC for the Aula Exposure book on what seems to have wrapped itself in the memeskin of the “echo-chamber”:

“The basic hypertext link as employed throughout the web thus far is just one-way and value-free. That is to say for example, that when I link to your website I send a user down a one-way street with no warning signposts as to what they will find there other than the text of the link itself.

Tools that help us explore the web, such as google or recommendation systems like that found on Amazon, only have a limited amount of information as a result to work from. As social-network analysts such as Valdis Krebs have demonstrated, this characteristic law of web-nature encourages ever-increasing homophila – i.e. we only hear voices like our own. Krebs’ diagram of increasing polarisation of recommendations of political books on Amazon is a powerful illustration of this.

There is growing discussion among those creating new tools for navigating the blog world, which will perhaps encourage new voices and less polarised linking patterns, thus encouraging exposure to more viewpoints and more voices.”

So, naturally, I think Piers Monkeymagic is right on the moolah. Seeing the structure – the supercontext if you will – lets you make decisions about whether to bathe in your cave of echoes, or listen to other voices…

Also the fact that I’m reading Quicksilver, and re-reading The Invisibles as an innoculation/invocation makes me partial to thinking about such things…

“Try to remember, it’s just a game…”

P.S. I just found that Elizabeth Goodman of ITP/Confectious fame has written a giant essay on The Invisibles!.

2 thoughts on “The Invisible College

  1. It’s useful I think to draw on the mechanisms of neuronal wiring within the brain as a metaphor for the ‘echo chamber’ effect. In the developing brain, neurons that fire together, wire together. Like fires with like, amplifying and extending signals globally. Same could be said for the way networks of minds form online are organized and harmonized by the charge of transmitting and resonating with mutually stimulating memes. What seems to be forming are massive information generating and processing circuits composed of communities of
    minds clustered around shared values and perspectives. Perfectly natural phenomenan in my mind, and a crucial process in the formation of the larger intra-circuit topagraphy of the global network.

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