When going through the process of adding / friending / following in social media, we often look for a common characteristic in our ‘friends’.  These characteristics can be anything, from the love of tech, design, political affiliation or religion or any other type of culture.  Why do we do this?  It’s an attempt in the perpetual battle of finding the the signal amongst the noise, but on that journey, are we falling prey to too much narcissism?

Here’s my concern:

If we only encourage interactions with people who are like ourselves by religion, politics, language, industry, etc., and shy away from everything else, will that not enclose us in a bubble?

Some Effects of the Bubble

One effect is that we end up with groupthink and an increasingly larger echo chamber.  A false reality is created by the purposeless regurgitation of ideas, everyone sheepishly agreeing with everyone else, and the ensuing lack of perspective due to isolation from the rest of the space.  Being open-minded isn’t enough.  What good is it being open-minded if there aren’t encounters with other perspectives?

Another effect is a related to the echo chamber: just pure boredom. Hearing about the same old topics over and over again can result in social media fatigue and blogger burnout.  Personally, I’d rather comment on someone else’s post rather than perpetuating a worn-out topic.  Sometimes, a comment can be just as meaningful as a post. (Heck, Disqus even thinks comments are blog posts)

Other effects include the suppression of different points of view which pushes folks to hold back on their level of engagement; and the isolation of those who dare to share all of the topics they like.

My Advice

  • Diversify your friend subscriptions
  • Encourage constructive discussion
  • Backup your opinions with facts
  • Empathize so you can be open-minded to see other viewpoints — you will learn more and appreciate others, and have others appreciate you for understanding them
  • Being open-minded also involves welcoming a variety of topics from unexpected sources
  • Be patient, you may have to endure some noise to gain more signal

In the end I think this will help you have more meaningful interactions, bring an added excitement to learning, and achieve greater satisfaction in your social media journey.

Is following a diverse group of people important to you?

  • jpostman

    A great post, Shey, and a favorite topic of mine. I try to diversify my friends lists, and I have been very fortunate to get to know artists, writers, troublemakers, anarchists, environmentalists, and people in all kinds of professions (or not in any profession) all over the world. The whole social networking experience is so much more rewarding when we get outside the narrowness of our own familiar circles.

  • Great post, Shey.

    I try to make sure I subscribe to a diverse set of individuals by interacting in a bunch of different places.

    One of the primary methods that gets me hooked up to people that may share interests slightly outside of my own is the FriendFeed Friend-of-a-Friend feature. I'm not sure people realize how powerful this is expanding your circle of “friends” and keeping things from becoming monotonous.

    To me, people that disable the FoaF feature are just sealing themselves into the echo chamber, blocking out all daylight 🙂

  • I think that's the way to go — thanks Joel

  • FOAF is definitely a powerful feature in FriendFeed, one that we all could make use of more often.

  • FOAF is definitely a powerful feature in FriendFeed, one that we all could make use of more often.

  • Nice piece, Shey. 🙂 I'm all about being positive and spreading positive vibes… After all, it's always easier to be negative than positive 😉

    Thanks for this write-up. You rock!

  • Thanks Mona 🙂

  • Nice post, Shey. I agree with what you've said and aside from hiding Digg and Stumbles, I read much is what is in my feed and learn a lot from people holding different views. It helps improve your own thinking and often times, one comes across a comment that makes one think differently rather than perpetuating the same old, same old.

  • Thanks Sally, learning from others is a great benefit of participating in social media.

  • i also like to diversify the content that i produce. when i first started blogging i kept my topic in the public relations/communications tunnel and I started to notice that echo chamber feeling. i made a decision to change the scope of my blog to include all of the fun (and not so fun) things in my life and because of that I've gained a whole new set of readers.

    great post shey!

  • I'm beginning to realize this as well as are other bloggers. I think many have gotten a little TOO focused on one topic.

    Even if I know my audience isn't going to love it, I'll still post anyway for variety's sake and because I also know at least a few people will benefit from it.

    Thanks Zoe!

  • KatFrench

    Your post makes me think of the musical concept of dissonance. A dissonant note doesn't fit–it's not in harmony–and yet it can add something to the composition.

    Life (and social media) without dissonance gets boring. 🙂

  • Very interesting analogy, thanks for that 🙂

  • I'm sure it was Steve's McCain supporter unsubscription post that inspired this. I had a very similar reaction to you and said so on the thread (David Knight). Steve remained subscribed to me and then later posted the following comment:

    “Interesting points of view all, I feel the need to clarify a bit. My initial post was a reaction to another thread where some of the commenters were actively anti-Obama. I only ended up un-following/friending 2 people, NOT exhaustively wiping anyone who mentioned McCain support from my entire digital life. I agree with all the comments here regarding the richness and vitality of discussion with those of differing viewpoints. That said, I feel that the US has been on deeply wrong track for too many years… – (steve isaacs)”

    Despite his choice of words to start with I think he was just dropping people engaging in political Trolling, a practice I follow no matter what party someone supports.

  • i've noticed is that it seems much easier to build up an audience of followers if you stick to one topic — if that's your goal: to raise your profile. if you're blog is “all over the place” topically, then people don't know what to expect, it seems. it seems like the blogosphere doesn't suffer jack-of-all-interests bloggers very well. personally, i prefer to be all over the place, mostly because my blog is more like a notebook that I keep which just happens to be public, and i'm interested in many, many things. it all boils down to your goals for publishing a blog in the first place, i suppose.

  • “it seems like the blogosphere doesn't suffer jack-of-all-interests bloggers very well” — I agree with this; but while I believe there should be a central focus, there has to be some wiggle room as well to spice things up.

    Your blog is one of a kind 🙂

  • Actually, I saw it after I had written most of the post — but it re-affirmed that this trend has already been happening.

  • It is not uncommon for people to congregate in areas where their viewpoints are shared, and where they're likely to get positive feedback or see others like them. As sites and services grow, and filters increase, there is greater opportunity to reduce the influence from others, whether they be different than you by politics, race, religion, etc.

    In February of 2006, when nobody was paying attention to my blog (a simpler time), I wrote about this issue:

    Blogging Bifurcation – A Web Divided
    http://www.louisgray.com/live/2006/02/blogging-

    Disagreement is healthy. Ignorance is unhealthy.

  • Participating in a diversified community increases the chances of actually finding, learning or communicating something new. Excellent post Shey even though with you latest seesmic engagement, I was afraid that is going to be a while before we see another post 🙂

  • Shelly

    Twitter is indeed fascinating. I'm watching a married guy I know, in his mid 40's, stalking a 23 year old. i can tell by the lame stupid things he posts he is trying to engage her. It's fascinating and disgusting at the same time. She has no clue and he is very manipulative and this stuff seems to work for him (obviously only for a short time, until the female realizes he's full of sh*t.) I know some of the little things he posts are outright lies. Fortunately she's got a lot of friends and a job she appears to love, so she's not desperate for attention.
    Twitter is ust another venue for narcissitic a*holes to inflict themselves on the rest of us. I'd never use it.

  • Well, I love differences. 😀

  • Great post. I read something similar a few days ago, or maybe it was your post. I find that most people I interact with on Twitter and Friendfeed are pretty open minded and tolerant of others views. Unfortunately I have been blocked before simply because I said something in defense of Fox News and Bill O'Reilly.

  • Hey Shey,

    You are right on this point… I grow very tired of the same narrow minded view on many topics that seem to have evangelists for a specific point of view. People do follow these people like a herd and any new information or insight is either suppressed or met with hostility and ego.

    The best way to deal with closed loop communities, in my experience, has been to be controversial and inject your arguments in an undeniable way. The steps I take to make a mark in these types of communities is the subject of a future blog post for you (or me).

    I appreciate your insight.

    Charles Heflin
    Twitter @CharlesHeflin

  • It's the folks that don't subscribe to the fact that we don't all dance to the same tune that can make it so difficult to enjoy.

    I have tried to communicate my idea's on a subject without being abrasive ~ only to be attacked and even hunted down so they can try to discredit me in any way possible.

    This may be why many choose to stay inside 'the bubble'.

    Great post Shey!

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  • Excellent point Shey and I'm actually doing just what you recommend. I heard you comment at WordCamp today. When I came home I searched Twitter for all posts related to #wcto08 and added anyone I didn't already follow. Sorry, make that EVERYONE I didn't already follow. Why? To broaden my horizons beyond the usual suspects and to possibly engage in some new conversations … like this one!

  • That's a great outlook Mike,

    Thanks!

  • Nice post. I tend to be drawn toward diversity so the social narcissism hasn't been much of an issue.

  • Hi Shey… thanks for touching on this topic… my advice is to try and be extroverted and think of others. Today I wrote a very similar piece on social media “rockstars” vs. “narcissists” :

    http://socialmediarockstar.com/social-media-roc

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