Freedom and the Echo Chamber

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There's been a shift in my writing habits over the last couple of months, one I'm just now becoming aware of. This blog has always been focused on photography—for obvious reasons—but over the years it's also served as a general outlet on occasion, a place to express opinions and ideas, regardless of subject. It's where I wrote about Steve Jobs' passing for instance, or more recently about my feelings surrounding US elections. These pages have always fulfilled a very specific need: when I feel like writing about something or sharing an emotion, this is where I turn.

There was an article this week about the death of independent blogging and the rise of owned publishing platforms—i.e Facebook et al. The concern expressed isn't new but it made me realize how easy it can be to shift these conversations elsewhere, to the point where the aforementioned need subsides. The therapeutic effects of sharing aren't bound, after all, to URLs. More importantly, they aren't bound to the amount of time we spend on expressing those thoughts.

The issue of ownership aside, the trouble with Facebook—Medium falls into a different category in my mind—is that it's rarely conducive to long-form expression. And yet those posts lull you into a false sense of reflexion, they still provide the chemical buzz of a release...when in fact chances are the words are barely more than a gut reaction. There are exceptions of course: Dan Rather comes to mind, with what has become an ongoing conversation about the state of US democracy. But even his much more prepared posts have fallen prey to typos here and there—which happens to everyone, but it does usually point to a quicker, less methodical train of thought. Some would say it's part of the appeal of social media and yes, it is. Unless it comes at the cost of introspection and more profound analysis.

Those US elections and the days since have turned into a Facebook spiral for me. The proverbial rabbit hole. I've engaged in conversations, I've started them and I've shared posts and various articles. I've even had arguments. I think it's a very human reflex to seek out validation in the face of what we find impossible to comprehend. But this "engagement" has had two very nefarious effects:

1) It has resulted in more and more stress in my life.

2) It has sucked out the energy needed to write on my own blog.

Using Facebook as a content feed (on a daily basis, something I'd actively avoided until now) creates a vacuum of epic proportions. Over just a few days my timeline morphed into an increasingly narrow set of views, tailored to what I had liked and shared. This isn't by any means a surprise, but the speed at which my "news feed" skewed itself to a very specific category of posts is disturbing, especially from a platform hell bent on becoming everything to everyone. Knowing an ever increasing number of people do rely on this as their main source of information explains a hell of a lot. By giving up our personal freedom to curate, we leave the choice of content to algorithms that focus on what we already browse, read and consume. And that's incredibly dangerous. These echo chambers become their own realities, potentially spreading disinformation and lies as truth, distorting facts through manipulation. This is how people become convinced President Obama is a muslim hell-bent on the destruction of American values; that Hillary Clinton was part of a satanic cult; or that Trump won the popular vote. This is how democracies fall. Bread and games. Total abstraction of reality. It's nothing short of mind-control—in fact, it's the very definition of it.

Personal blogs are enclaves, small corners of the web that are increasingly hard to discover, drowned as they are by the clamour and noise of social media platforms. I still use RSS feeds in Feedly and I know for a fact this makes me a dinosaur. But it also puts me in control of what I read, allows me to subject myself to a wide-ranging set of point of views if I choose to do so. We all tend towards what we already relate to, we seek out like-minded groups; it's a very normal, human behaviour. But when we isolate ourselves, when it becomes all but impossible to hear anything else, then we lose our ability to make informed, coherent decisions.

This is all a very long-winded tirade, meant as a wake-up call to myself: I need to step away from the brainwashing and make a choice. I also need to get back to journaling, sharing images that mean something, engaging. Here, away from fear and rage, on my own turf.

A much smaller pulpit, sure...but so, so much quieter.

P.S The picture above is pure indulgence: my dad's dusty Yashica, shot with the X-Pro2 and a Lensbaby Edge 80.

Patrick La Roque

laROQUE, 311 Lorncliff, Otterburn Park, Canada