Tim Urban’s recently published book, What’s Our Problem, has reignited the discussion about echo chambers and what he calls idea labs.
Echo chambers are environments where information and opinions reflect and reinforce existing beliefs. Dissenting viewpoints and questioning opinions are discouraged. Echo chambers are not only the pinnacle of groupthink and conformity but many times of intolerance.
The opposite of echo chambers are Idea Labs, “environments of collaborative high-rung thinking, where the rules of the group’s intellectual culture reflect the values of critical thinking, debate, independent thinking, and viewpoint diversity1.”
At first sight, idea labs seem attractive. In practice, however, they require cognitive empathy. You must be able to hold a strong opinion while having at the same time the openness to change your mind in front of new evidence. Also, the courage to state an unpopular opinion, question current points of view or disagree with what the majority is thinking.
Idea labs are antifragile because stressing ideas helps participants in the discussion think better and become aware of their own biases.
We should consider if the different circles we are part of—work, friends, etc—resemble more idea labs or echo chambers. We should consider if we behave like we were in an echo chamber or an idea lab.