By virtue of their reach and influence, Chris Kenny’s columns have become echo chambers — and on no topic is this more evident than in his conviction that Twitter is an echo chamber, writes economist Tom Westland.
When Chris Kenny decides to share a typically consequential piece of prose, he sits down at a desk to type a newspaper column. This column, through the power of a sophisticated, high-tech logistical distribution system, can reach an astonishing approximate of 110,000 readers each weekday.
In days of yore, scholarly types would communicate with the little people only with the greatest difficulty. Peasants toiling in the fields could pass through their allotted time on the planet quite insensible of the well-tempered wisdom of the Chris Kennys of their age. But no more! Leveraging the power of the revolutionary “newspaper” distribution system, Chris Kenny may communicate with the masses unmediated by priests or royal censors. Phrases like “the modern media environment”, “mainstream concerns” and “substantive debate” may be delivered directly to readers with an immediacy that is both intoxicating and frightening. Can Johannes Gutenberg have understood the heft and import of his invention? Can he have imagined how the printing press would give birth, first to newspapers and then almost teleologically, to the mass distribution of Chris Kenny columns?
But this revolution, though it has undoubtedly democratised access to Chris Kenny columns, comes with its dark side. Chris Kenny columns, by virtue of their stupendous reach and unarguable influence, have become echo chambers. The opinions of Chris Kenny are circulated and amplified within these columns until they become almost caricatures of opinions that Chris Kenny might hold. They become self-referential and self-reinforcing to the point of solipsism. On no topic is this more evident than on Chris Kenny’s conviction that Twitter is an “echo chamber”.
“The echo-chamber derision often directed at Twitter is, in fact, the reality,” he wrote on Saturday. Sharp-eyed readers might observe innocent similarities with the sermon Kenny delivered on the affaireAlan Jones in 2012, which he thought exaggerated by “the echo chamber of Twitter”. This sentiment resonates harmoniously with an opinion Chris Kenny ventured last August: “Labor continues to dominate in the youthful, green-Left echo chamber of Twitter.” Or again with the idea that came to him last November, that Labor “was urged along by the usual media cheer squad, amplified by the echo chamber of social media”. In March, he described the problem thus: “The unbearable lightness of Twitter, as I have explained previously” — (!) — “helps skew political commentary to the lunar Left by providing a green-Left echo-chamber”. It was in that March column that Chris Kenny announced his decision to retire from Twitter. He is now on what we may only presume to be a prolonged farewell tour.
In his article on Saturday, Chris Kenny explained the terrible cost of this echo chamber to what we may very well be forced to describe as the national debate. Newspapers would prefer to publish sober analysis, but they are forcibly conscripted by Twitter to fill their pages with ephemera:
“Every 24-hour scandal sucks up news coverage and column space that otherwise might be turned to the budget debate, for instance, or indigenous recognition or education reform.”
Indeed, with the pages of our newspapers crammed full of cheap tattle in this way, it is only columns like Chris Kenny’s in which the serious business of fiscal consolidation may be thoughtfully masticated. “As [the Prime Minister] seeks to conscript the media and the public into a serious national debate about budget repair and economic reform, there are no easy answers,” Kenny warned gravely, going on to outline a series of thoughtful arguments about the need for — but no, confound it all, he had run out of room!
That’s what’s so insidious about the Twitter echo chamber, you see. Not only does it refuse to talk about the very important matters facing Australia, but somehow (who knows by what underhand methods) it prevents Chris Kenny from talking about them as well.