• author
    • Donald Sanders

    • November 16, 2016 in Columnists

    We’re on information overload

    I’ve been noticing lately that the internet hurts my brain. Last week, the internet was inundated with Trump badmouthing Clinton and vice-versa, so at first thought, I blamed the bad politics of the current election. With the constant bickering and bitching, I can think of no other sub-group that is so dysfunctional.

    Now I can see that the “hurting brain” problem is not only mine but everybody’s. Well, anyone that uses the internet anyway. A simple analogy for what I’m talking about is: “Too much food makes you fat and immobile; too much information makes you numb and dumb.” My hurting brain has a common case of “information overload.”

    We have access to too much information — information about everything. I don’t know how accurate this number is, but the web says internet users overall consume 9,570,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of information each year. That’s a lot of bytes. They say that if this information were in the form of a stack of books, it would reach all the way to Neptune. Information comes to us at a faster rate than reading books but we spend much more time gathering info on the net than turning pages.

    If you partake in the gathering of information on the net, you should know that any privacy you once enjoyed is gone, gone and gone. Your internet provider has every email you have ever sent. It has every search you’ve ever made, and the contents of any chat rooms you may have provided. It knows your alerts, your calendar entries, your contact list, and all the information about you and all of your friends. It has every picture you shared with anybody.

    Nice huh?

    Once you make that little click, they have it and you can never unclick it. It stays there forever. There are 100 +/- options for everything you wish to know. Information overload is also known as option fatigue. Like I said, “It makes my brain hurt!” We have so many options for information that our brain can’t process it fast enough and thus we forget what we wanted to know almost as fast as we read it. It’s not like reading the local newspaper but the best analogy I can find comes from a journalist.

    A 1986 book, “The Uncensored War” by press scholar Daniel C. Hallin, may help clarify where the best information comes from. Take a sheet of paper and make a big circle in the middle. In the center of that circle draw a smaller one to create a doughnut shape. Label the doughnut hole “sphere of consensus.” Call the middle region “sphere of legitimate debate,” and the outer region “sphere of deviance.”

    The “sphere of legitimate debate” is the one journalists recognize as real, normal, everyday terrain. They think of their work as taking place almost exclusively within this space. The “sphere of consensus” is the “motherhood and apple pie” of politics — the things on which everyone is thought to agree. Propositions that are seen as uncontroversial to the point of boring, true to the point of self-evident or so widely-held that they’re almost universal lie within this sphere.

    In the “sphere of deviance” we find “political actors and views which journalists and the political mainstream of society reject as unworthy of being heard.” As in the sphere of consensus, neutrality isn’t the watchword here; journalists maintain order by either keeping the deviant out of the news entirely or identifying it within the news frame as unacceptable, radical, or just plain impossible.

    The authority of the press (mass media) to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news through the internet. Many users believe that what is on the internet is closer to “real public opinion” than what is in the mainstream media. The problem is that all this information goes in and then it is lost forever.

    So what is the answer? I can only say it is “moderation.” Use of your gut feelings are the tools for an uncertain world. Too much data creates only an illusion of certainty. Pick and choose places where you gather your information. Trust is everything.

    Moderation, moderation, moderation!


    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? — TS Eliot

    • Good to read just now.

      • Maya Spier Stiles North

      • November 20, 2016 at 8:11 pm
      • Reply

      I totally hear you. But if I shut myself off from it, I am in danger of forgetting my current mission — being one of the voices dedicated to saving the world. <3

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