Spare a thought this week for the demoralized global glitterati of Davos. Tech titans, billionaires, and do-gooder celebrities just wrapped their annual gathering in the Swiss Alps, where over Champagne and canapés they tried desperately to understand how they got 2016 so wrong. If you’d taken a poll at last year’s forum, attendees would have told you that Britain was definitely staying in the European Union, that Hillary Clinton was unquestionably headed for the White House, and that the populist waves in Europe and the U.S. were in retreat. In other words, they were 0 for 3. For the captains of industry who pride themselves on diagnosing the world’s problems, being so off the mark has proved to be deeply unsettling. After all, their wealthy, powerful circles so clearly reflected back to them a world of globalized, borderless prosperity. “We all talk to one another in this bubble here in Davos,” said advertising tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell. But some of us are “clearly out of touch.”
No doubt about that. But while it’s easy to mock the swells at Davos for their cluelessness, you don’t have to own a private jet to live in an echo chamber. Anyone with an internet connection, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and cable TV can create an alternative reality as seductive as Davos’, reinforced by a small army of like-minded allies who will smugly reassure you 10 times a day that you’re right. Liberals were sure Donald Trump couldn’t possibly win in November. Four years ago, many conservatives were no less certain that polls showing Mitt Romney headed for defeat had to be wrong. Confirmation bias is a powerful force affecting all of us, and the only antidote is to be aware of it—and to deliberately expose yourself to information, opinions, and people that challenge your assumptions and biases. Otherwise, as the Davos crowd could tell you, you will inevitably be mugged by reality.