How many Millennials does it take to build an echo chamber?

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Published on

August 26, 2016
Time to read: 3 minutes
echo chamber 2 - Hook Research

I want to be a bit pedantic just for a moment. Post-Brexit I heard quite a bit about the ‘echo chamber’: many have spoken about how Millennials were so caught up in an echo chamber of social media and liberal friend groups that they failed to fully participate in the referendum.

While I don’t necessarily take issue with the point, I do take issue with the language being used. I think that ‘echo chamber’ subverts the importance of the perspectives Millennials bring to the table, while also highlighting a wider problem with perspective that we at Hook Research, as market researchers, deal with every day.

The echo chamber and Plato’s Cave

To explain what I mean, I want to briefly – oh so briefly – talk about philosophy.

You might have heard of this guy called Plato – ancient Greek philosopher, pretty big deal. In his Republic, he describes a dialogue between one Glaucon and the famous pug-faced Socrates. The story would later become known as the Allegory of the Cave.

Speaking to Glaucon, Socrates urges him to imagine a group of individuals who have been chained up to a short wall in a cave since birth. The shackles bite into their necks, ensuring that they can’t move their heads and look in any other direction. At a distance behind this short wall burns a great, bright fire – and between the wall and fire walk people, carrying various objects and puppets on their heads. The light from the fire projects shadows of these objects onto the wall in front of the chained up prisoners. At the same time, distorted sounds from a city far above the cave can be heard, giving voices to the shadows. As a result, the prisoners have grown up believing that these shadows of objects are actually the objects themselves.

echo chamber - Hook Research

A matter of perspective

OK. I admit – it’s a bit of an absurd story.

But I DO think this is a more apt metaphor for the current issue with Millennials. An echo chamber is insular: it is an enclosed space (we similarly speak about the Millennial ‘bubble’) in which words are rebounded and regurgitated. It negates just how much Millennials are interested in the world around them. Millennials are regularly touted in the media as the “most connected generation”, and are consequently very much informed on the latest developments and ideas; I mean, we must know something if “reverse mentoring” is now a thing.

Plato’s Cave is instead open to external information: figures walk in and out of the room, but the firelight transforms them into something they are not, producing a flattened, shadowy version of fuller three-dimensional figures. Chained to the wall, unable to move, the prisoners have only one perspective on everything – but it is a perspective informed and shaped by external stimuli, and I think that is an important difference.

Of course, these perspectives are often shared by friends, families and colleagues (various ‘caves’, if we want to push the metaphor) and this collectivism will inevitably shadow our view of the world. As researchers, we at Hook Research often find that our work involves challenging these perspectives. One of our more recent clients, for instance, was surprised when a focus group uncovered perspectives that the company hadn’t considered and, even worse, outright rejected. The company had reams of audience insight and intelligent analysts to examine it – but a part-time postman from Bromley could still turn their world upside down with a few gruff sentences.

Is this a bit of pedantry? Perhaps. But delegating Millennials to the echo chamber ignores the valid perspective they bring to the table, something that is so important to understand when undertaking market research.

That’s why we’re so interested in Talking Human at Hook – getting to the heart of the different passions and perspectives driving consumers through engaging, respectful dialogue. We strongly believe this ethos has helped us create insights that avoid the Cave/Chamber entirely, and provide our clients with the most helpful, perspective-changing insights possible…

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts about this blog on our Facebook and Twitter pages! And if you have any questions about Hook, Talking Human, or our unique 4D Methodology, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!


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