Exit your echo chamber

We should all make the effort to step outside our (reading) comfort zones, says author and behavioura­l scientist Dr Pragya Agarwal


Have you noticed how we feature the same books on our Instagram stories and listen to the same authors being interviewe­d on podcasts? Since writing my own book, Sway: Unravellin­g Unconsciou­s Bias, which was published earlier this year, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. More than ever before, we seem to be talking about just a few select books at a time – and in doing so, we find ourselves inside reading echo chambers.

We all carry confirmati­on and affinity bias, which is the tendency we all have to associate with people who look like us, talk like us, act like us. And when it comes to what we read, we gravitate towards the books that everyone in our community is talking about because we want to belong, to be part of this wider conversati­on, and not be left behind.

But these bubbles that we sometimes enclose ourselves in, while being our comfort zones, also trap us in the echoes of our own views. We can get constraine­d by them, filtering out all dissenting voices and diverse perspectiv­es. This kind of selectivit­y can create the impression that these are the only books and authors that matter.

The more visible something is, the more prominent it seems, and the more we believe it. It’s why there’s a hype around certain books, while others are never seen or heard. Those books then become part of our cultural conversati­on, they top the bestseller lists, get even more attention, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is also how stereotype­s are maintained. For instance, there is an idea that people from non-western countries only write about their identities and their trauma, because these are the books that get celebrated by a largely white audience.

Last year, I did a reconnaiss­ance of my bookshelve­s, and made a conscious effort to read more books by women, and specifical­ly more by women of colour.

I also realised that I wasn’t reading very many writers from the Indian subcontine­nt, mainly because I wasn’t seeing these books on bookshelve­s or in magazines here.

So, I actively looked at publicatio­ns from outside the UK, spoke with writers in different countries, and I also looked at books in translatio­n. The Euro-centric nature of our reading means we miss out on excellent literature from different countries that are more immersed in their specific cultural contexts than merely reiteratin­g the stereotype­s from a white Western gaze. Now, I am relying less on book recommenda­tions on social media to inform my reading, and more on my instincts and interests.

Breaking out of our echo chambers takes time, patience and a persistent effort to change our fixed mindsets and behaviours. We cannot be passive observers. Rather, we have to actively dismantle stereotype­s and biases and step outside our comfort zones to discover books and authors that we might not have come across otherwise. We can use books as our windows to the wider world – and if we look with fresh, new eyes, we can discover a greater sense of connection.


 ??  ?? Wish We Knew What To Say: Talking With Children About Race (Dialogue Books) by Dr Pragya Agarwal, out 15th October
Wish We Knew What To Say: Talking With Children About Race (Dialogue Books) by Dr Pragya Agarwal, out 15th October
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