BBC news : the Box, 2009. Wikicommons/ Grahamc99. Some rights reserved.Take a look at the talking heads on your TV – or perhaps your twitter feed, your FB timeline, whatever your preference for getting your news dose these days. Then try and match this to the world out there, to the events that shape the world today.
You will be forgiven for feeling that you live in something of a paranoia-inducing metaworld, where ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ (whatever these may have meant before, in the past) have now been replaced by consecutive tiny bubbles of information forming our very own, personalised individualised reality pockets.
No, there is no longer a world ‘out there’, only a claustrophobic, fully adjustable and particular flavour of a truth, within your personalised ‘here’. Heck, even Obama thinks so: we now live in the echo chamber society.
In denouncing this echo chamber, this endless reverberation of our voice (or maybe better, whatever voice happens to be close enough to ours to sound pleasurable) we forget a simple truth. The truth that we ourselves voluntarily succumb to this reality. A reality where we choose to preserve only that which is sufficiently pleasurable. And this is not only about information.
After the social contract
From our daily routines in the city, to our social interaction circles, to the ever-more predetermined paths of social mobility (or, far more often, the lack thereof), our societies – I am talking of the western, Anglophone world here – have become more fragmented and divided than they’ve been in a very long time.
In a nutshell: the universality of the social contract, this pillar of post-WWII stability and cohesion, is faltering and falling apart. Universal healthcare? Uncheck. Jobs for all, or even most of us? Oh, definitely uncheck. Accessible education, housing, any prerequisite of decent existence for the many? Don’t think so. All the givens most of us grew up with? Going, going, gone.
But in some bizzare, inexplicable way, their departure is not leading to more widespread instability and generalised tension. Yes there is the odd exception: Athens 2008, London 2011, Paris 2017. But on the whole, this implosion is met with a deafening silence.
The erosion of these pillars leads us instead to an insular, cocoon-like breakup of populations into the sum of its individuals, the compartmentalisation of previously common space, and the erosion and reassignment of rights to those lucky enough to fall on the right side of a forest of new dividing lines hastily going up.
In short: as the security and universality of the social contract vanishes, we seek refuge in the spaces that we trust and know best; physical or virtual, material or cognitive. Our self-induced information containment only follows and reaffirms, loop-like, these freshly erected barriers of our social world.
To preserve a resemblance of order across the world, power divides rights and assigns them to places, a fragmented and individualised spatial contract that replaces the universality of the social contract.
The individually-tailored information echo chamber only follows: a cry in our personalised wild.
What ways are there out of this, how do we even go about breaching this contract? That is a massive as much as a necessary undertaking. But there is most definitely one necessary starting point.
Don’t focus on the reverberating sounds of the echo chamber, look at the structure that has formed it, before you even realised, and right before your eyes. The echo chambers’ walls, the infrastructure that holds it together, is the spatial contract.