Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Personal Hell-icon: What our ears are itching to hear?

In Heaney’s poem, “Personal Helicon” he reflects on his childhood fascination for wells. He used to shout down them and hear his own sounds come back to him enriched.

As a poet, he threw the words out and listened to them, and, through the poetry, he could “see himself” – gain a better understanding of himself – through his interactions with the world. He describes various wells, stating:

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it… /

and concluding:
/ …I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

I love this idea of “clean new music” – when one shouts into a void, and hears an echo, and learns something.

But echoes aren’t necessarily all good. Or all clean.

Sometimes we edit the echoes.

If I make a statement on facebook, some people will hit “like”. I feel reassured about my statement and emboldened to make another one. If I “like” a post, a link, a group or a cause, more posts will be added to my newsfeed. Facebook will figure out my foibles, quirks and preferences and then fire me a whole lot of information I’ll probably like. I “like” it, and more follows. If I post within these spheres, the people there will likely “like” it. I am further emboldened and convinced of my own opinion.

Between facebook, twitter and myself, I have created an echo chamber where all I might hear is my own opinion, coming back reinforced and repeated – perhaps with what I take to be “clean new music in it”.

I might, however be lulled into a false sense of security.

Back at the hypothetical first post – I perhaps got several likes. Then there were the silent 250 other facebook friends who didn’t hit “like”. They thought “dislike” but didn’t have a button; they thought “meh” and carried on with their day; they thought “lunatic” but didn’t want to say so for fear of hurting my feelings; they thought “delusional”, rolled their eyes and had a coffee. They might even go as far as to find the “I don’t want to see this on my timeline” button, which one does end up at, on occasion

They edit their newsfeed and cut out my delusional observations.

They correct their own echo chamber with things that don’t fire back their own view at them. And I do the same.

After time, do we all end up sitting in our echo chambers of self selection, thinking that the world and ourselves are in harmony – because everyone is saying what we are saying and everyone is posting what we are posting and we feel the affirmation that comes from having that online accord? And we end up deluding ourselves?

I find myself thinking that it is important to listen to things we disagree with. But at the same time I can’t imagine selecting to listen to views I find abhorrent. The last thing I chose to ban from my timeline was “Britain First” who post thinly veiled racist propaganda. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to see any of my friends “like” any of their posts. I don’t want Facebook thinking that its worth sending any other racist propaganda my way.

Do I end up then thinking that none of my friends “like” racist propaganda? Am I saving myself an awkward moment socially, by becoming more entrenched in my echo chamber, of my views, as they ping back to me in other forms.

Admittedly I am a proponent of selection, when it comes to what you put in your mind. I am big on literature, the Bible and [H]ouse.

By reading the bible and agreeing with the bible and only reading the bible, do I end up in an echo chamber loop where that is all I can see so it is all I can think? Arguably. Certainly that is the way it is with [House] – when I watch too much, the world around me morphs into episode after episode. (At the moment, Sally from BBC Breakfast has morphed into Stacy Warner).

Within the Bible echo chamber though, it is possible to read the bible in a balanced and an unbalanced way. I was reading a book about the Cross at Eastertime, as one might, and there were lots of great, uplifting verses. There were a lot of gruesome and challenging verses also. It was interesting to discover that when I was googling for images to put on my facebook feed – all of the “nice” verses had a range of beautiful backgrounds and fancy fonts brought together in a sharable picture – but the challenging verses of hard home truths had been edited out of the image makers’ selection.

Another bible verse comes to my mind:

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

2 Timothy 4 vs 3 and 4

I think this is the first century equivalent of an echo chamber – where people listen to what they want to hear, and only that.

Back to Heaney, looking down his well, giving a shout – rhyming – into the darkness to set it echoing, to see himself…

I wonder how my self selected echo chamber is set – how much I have meddled with the balance of life, opinion and truth – how much I have gathered around me the opinions that my itching ears want to hear.

Heaney’s poem, “Personal Helicon” is named after Helicon, a mountain of the Greek myths, where Narcissus saw his own reflection and was inspired by his own beauty. It was a mountain associated with muses, with inspiration. Heaney’s wells were his inspiration – and he noted that:

To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity.

and so reverted to poetry to see himself.
Perhaps it is also “beneath all adult dignity” to live in an echo chamber and only hear your own opinion repackaged and delivered back to you.

I am failing to come to a conclusion.

*jumps into a well of her own making*





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9 thoughts on “Personal Hell-icon: What our ears are itching to hear?

  1. theotheri on said:

    I’ve never though of the internet, and especially the social media, in quite this way before. I appreciate the conundrum you describe, though. When I taught university, occasionally students would say that they didn’t have to learn about a particular theory because they disagreed with it. I used to tell them they didn’t have to agree with every theory we studied in a course, but they did have to understand it before deciding that they didn’t agree. It’s a principle I try to put into practice in my life as well.

    If I understand what you are getting at, you are also concerned with the limiting effect of tuning out before you have really listened.

    Heaney is one of my favourite poets. And I love your quote apropos quote from Tinothy!

    • Yes – understanding is important. In the referendum crescendo it all became a bit polarised with people unable to see other people’s perspectives. Yes voters couldn’t believe people would actually consider voting no and No voters couldn’t believe anyone could vote yes… Hopefully both sides will try to listen to each other over the future months.

  2. Beware confirmation bias!

  3. Good post. I too have been thinking about this, albeit less elegantly than you.

    In 1998 when I started buying a daily paper I decided to go for the Guardian as I thought it would make a good counter-commentary to the government as Thatcher was then at her height. So it proved and I also, usefully, had my eyes opened to all sorts of other people’s lives and foreign affairs. To be fair it may also have been effective in the Blair/Brown years but I had changed paper for different reasons.

    With friendships, I have been recently musing on how inevitably people choose friends from similar backgrounds/outlooks therefore the support network is more likely to affirm choices than challenge them. Whilst there has to be some sort of overlap of shared values etc, friendships outwith our usual circles can be stimulating and a good church has a valuable role in bringing together folk of different age groups and backgrounds as potential friends.

    See also Carol Dweck book on Mindset and the dangers in business and professional life of a culture where people feel unable to challenge the status quo or direction of travel.

    But as for Fb, I am very cynical as the Likes are primarily aids for marketing purposes. I purposefully avoided commenting on this post on Fb although I don’t think comments attract the same issues.

  4. I think that this post was inspired. 😀 The echo chamber point is an important one and we should try to keep that in mind. I love the Greek myth tie in; poor Narcisus, he passsed away from unrequited love, his own he spent the remaining days staring in lovestruck awe and wasted away and there was this maiden Echo who was so chatty, ticked off a God for being so chatty and she was condemned to never being able to speak her own mind only repeat other’s words. Poor Echo stumbled upon Narcisus who was telling himself I love you and she could only repeat those words but to no avail, he didn’t pay her any mind. She wandered off and was beset by a pack of hunting dogs. Very sad stories

  5. Indeed. When I was a student of English Lit I realised I was missing half of the classical references (at least ) so purchased a witty potted-myths book called “By Jove!” where I learned the main point of each myth. It has been very handy. Your reply reminded me of this limerick I wrote back in March 2012. It is called “Self-Esteem”:
    There once was a god called Narcissus,
    Who preferred his own self to his Mrs.
    So large was his ego,
    He had no amigo,
    So he just had to mind his own business.

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