Teresa Ovalle

Welcome to Me

I Know I’m Right – There’s No One to Tell Me Differently

on March 18, 2014

Imagine surrounding yourself by people who believe what you believe.  You think alike, and you have empowering conversations as to how to change the world for the better.  Nothing can stop you as a group.  This group has a way of thinking that you’re very comfortable with, with little to no outside disruption of countering thought.  You have found your niche.

As Sunstein states, “With just a few clicks, you can find dozens of Web sites that show you are quite right to like what you already like and think what you already think.” (pg. 1)  This is true.  I belong to a couple of niche groups that I find appealing because the group members have similar thoughts as I do.  It only took a few clicks to find what I was looking for online.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who felt familiar to me.  That’s a good feeling.  My ideas were validated, and I realized how right I was.  Or was I?

Through my travels, I’ve met people who knew everything and were certain that what they knew was absolutely right.  There was no room for speculation.  They had statistics to back up their facts and quotes from famous people who thought the same as they did.  They could be right.  That I cannot refute, but were they right because the facts presented were fair and impartial, or were they right because their enclave of like-minded people gave them boldness to declare them so?

Perhaps it is as Sunstein suggests, “A key consequence of this kind of self-sorting is what we might call enclave extremism.  When people end up in enclaves of like-minded people, they usually move toward a more extreme point in the direction to which the group’s members were originally inclined.” (pg. 2)  If I am but one person who believes as I do, then it seems that I would be less bold to confront others regarding my beliefs.  I think it is difficult to step out as one person, but if it is as Sunstein suggests, then with an enclave of similar-minded people, I may be emboldened to share my beliefs with a firmer voice and confidence.  I have a backup.

It doesn’t stop here, however.  As I mentioned above, it’s as easy as a few clicks to find a niche you can call your own, but you can’t stay in that niche forever.  Eventually everyone must come out of their niche world for a breath of fresh air – or one would hope.  When this happens, and you stumble back to your personal social online group that is filled with everyday people with different thoughts than you, you’ll soon discover that you are surrounded by other influences.

These other influences are often considered weak ties.  These people are more likely to be acquaintances; people you know, but not very well. (Weak Ties Theory)  Weak ties help offer you perspective and balance.  A conversation with a weak tie may challenge your current thinking process and offer perspective.   As Weak Ties Theory puts it, “The more weak ties we have, the more connected to the world we are and are more likely to receive important information about ideas, threats and opportunities in time to respond to them.”  To ensure we don’t get trapped in an enclave way of thinking, weak ties help us build perspective.

More so than the niche group you conform with, the weak ties may be more influential to you.  As Manjoo states, “… this means that, when considered in aggregate, our weak ties… are the most influential people in our networks.” (pg. 2)  I think this means that while a niche group offers comfort and confidence in one particular area, the weak ties help fill in missing perspective.

To sum this up, Sunstein suggests that, “The starting point here is that on many issues, most of us are really not sure what we think.  Our lack of certainty inclines us toward the middle.  Outside of enclaves, moderation is the usual path.  Now imagine that people find themselves in enclaves in which they exclusively hear from others who think as they do.  As a result, their confidence typically grows, and they become more extreme in their beliefs.”  (pg. 2)  I believe this to be true, but I also believe that weak ties, if allowed, help maintain a certain perspective.

I think this is very important in today’s online niche-associated world.  We cannot allow ourselves to believe just one thing without looking at another perspective.  If we do this, we’ll entrap ourselves in a world that is not flexible, and there is just one way to do believe, to do, and to say.  I think this is dangerous.

Sunstein states that, “… as a result of the Internet, we live increasingly in an era of enclaves and niches – much of it voluntary, much of it produced by those who think they know, and often we know, what we’re likely to like.” (pg. 1)  I encourage you to listen to your weak ties, to explore their side of the story and to see where the new perspective takes you.  You may be surprised.

References:

Sunstein, C. R. (2007, December 14). The polarization of extremes.  The Chronicle of Higher Education 54(16), B9.

Manjoo, F. (2012, January 17).  The end of the echo chamber: A study of 250 million Facebook users reveals the Web isn’t as polarized as we thought. Slate.

Weak Ties Theory

http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/weak_ties.htm