Information Overload & Shallow Existence

I was not surprised to read that the amount of information we received for the whole of 2002 would be equivalent to what we are bombarded with in just two weeks in 2012. Information overload is one of the many “crosses” we carry, the weight of which paralyzes us and restricts action/response from us. I am beginning to understand why I am producing less, even though I seem to be working longer hours!

Some of the thoughts of Neil Postman’s 1986 book Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin) which I read in the 90’s are making more sense for me today! Orwell (1984) may have been fearful of books being banned, but it was Huxley who was spot on in suggesting that the real fear should be that there will be no one who wanted read one. So while Orwell feared being watched constantly and being deprived of information, Huxley feared a system that which would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passive zombies locked in our egoistic worlds (incurvatus in se – wrapped up/bent up in self). Our insatiable desire for more and our appetite for distractions mean that what we have come to love will be the cause of our ruin!

The amount of time we spend before our computer screen, online, surfing, emailing, posting, blogging, tweeting, reading tweets and blogs of others has its costs. We are less available than we wish to admit. Try keeping a check on this and it would scare the hell out of us. Our attention span, reading and comprehension ability and contact with the immediate world around us do suffer and may be worse off than in in 2000. We may think that we have more information at our fingertips – easy and quick access – via our smart phones, ipods, ipads and other fruit named gadgets. But think (a privilege if you can) again. Huxley is right: what we have come to love or get hooked on is ruining us! For many of us information has become a distraction, quite entertaining and jazzy. Less and less people are empowered by the abundance of information. And, our over developed sense of multi-tasking seems to be bearing little or no fruit. We may have become less productive and sharp-minded!

Nicholas Carr, a technology pundit in his critical book, The Shallows suggests that “the net may be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use”. However, the troubling part is that humans “are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.” We may wish to dispute Carr’s take on the internet or whether google etc makes us any wiser. However, what we will certainly find interesting, convincing and even scary is his link his thesis with neuroscience and the notion of “neuroplasticity” to demonstrate what is happening to our brain as it adapts to new sensations and experiences.

What happens to our brains when we depend totally on our Sat-Navs, ipods, ipads, and modern media is no joking matter! For certain our brain cells will alter and find new neural pathways at the cost of weakening older ones. Soon those imgainative thinking cells of ours are being re-wired! In other words the internet is effectively re-wiring our brains, thus raising critical implications about our ability to think, the ways we respond to the challenges and crises around us, for our conversations, our views of the world and each other, our relationships, and our vision of a common good for all.

Given the present state of affairs, can it be that this re-wiring of our brains may be a contributing reason why we remain locked in an economic meltdown mode, why we lack thinking and decisive politicians, why we have a lack of leaders with the ability to “thin-slice”, why poor numeracy is blighting our economic performance, ruining lives and allow supermarkets make fools of us with their tricky pricing strategy, and why we work longer hours and yet produce less?

So let me now turn to sipping cups of herbal tea hoping that my ability to remember will improve, while contemplating what my next wood-working project will be and how I can throw off the shackles of information overload. And cheers to those willing and brave enough to give up all the so called benefits of our idolised internet. Existence (to step out) is more exciting and worthwhile in the deep!

© March 3, 2011 caribleaper

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