Monday, January 09, 2017

Too Much Information

Every day I get emails from news aggregators, those individuals and organizations who scan the news day and night and select links to what they think I should know. I signed up for them but I cannot read them all. There’s not enough time in the day — and if there was, I don’t have the energy. I have to delete some each day without reading them and I feel guilty when I do that. I feel I’m missing something I should know.
There was a time I thought it was possible to get at least a cursory understanding of anything and everything. Long ago I learned that’s not possible, but sometimes I forget. As a boy, I read newspapers, magazines, and  books of all types. My father subscribed to The Boston Globe, The Lowell Sun, Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, National Geographic, and others. Occasionally, I’d see a Playboy left in the woods. The library was just over a mile away. I also purchased comic books and Superman was my favorite. Then there was a collection of Classics Illustrated — abridged, edited, comic-book formatted classic books like “Last of the Mohicans”; “Moby Dick”; “Silas Marner”; and many others. There was never a lack of things to read. It was a rich environment for a boy who wanted to learn about the world, past and present.
And I was sent to school — Catholic schools from second grade through high school. There I was taught many things, including the long history of the Catholic Church — the oldest, continually-functioning institution on earth. After that, I attended various colleges and earned degrees. All during that time, I took lessons from the school of hard knocks and I have the scars to prove it.
Understanding the present is difficult enough but then I was a history teacher. I had to help students make sense of the human past and relate it to the present. Courses were chunked into specific places and time spans but that didn't make it much easier really. There was the stuff we know happened, but what did it mean? It was humbling.
Since the late 20th century, I’ve used the internet to supplement my information gathering, but I have mixed feelings about it. My laptop has become the primary way I interact with the world beyond family, and sometimes with family as well through texts, email, and social media. I’m using it now to write this. Soon I’ll send it out for publication in various places, hard copy and digital.
In my pocket is another device with which I can tap the worldwide web, but I prefer my laptop because I don’t like typing with my thumbs, because the laptop is faster, and because its screen is bigger. I can’t remember the last time I looked online for information and didn’t find it. Can you? So, nearly all of us have something in our pockets that can reveal to us almost any kind of facts we may be looking for.
But is this access making us wiser? Better citizens? Better people? Not from my perspective it isn’t. For many of us, the information we’re looking for isn’t edifying. For some, it’s gossipy. For others, it’s prurient. Online, there’s always an option to go in a different direction. We may have originally been searching for edification, but were distracted and taken somewhere else. 
That’s not possible when we’re reading a book. Turn the page and we go where the author wants to take us, and if we chose the book wisely, that’s a positive direction. We can put the book down and pick up some kind of pulp, but it has to be readily available. To read a Playboy growing up, I would have to close whatever I was reading, go out into the woods, look for it, and it probably wouldn’t be there. Online in the 21st century, hooks are everywhere. If someone nibbles, more is just a compulsive click away. We must choose not to bite. When laptops with wireless internet were issued to all my students during my last years teaching, use of social media or accessing pornography were forbidden, but it was difficult to monitor, especially because they could be taken home. Compared to Playboy of my youth, pornography available to children today is shockingly evil.
Even without distractions, it’s not possible to learn all we want to know. There’s simply too much information available at our fingertips now. We’re nearly always on overload. and we don’t take time to process, and our online experience tends to be solitary. Someone may put a phone under our eyes wanting us to watch something, but how often do we discuss it? How much time do we spend just thinking about it? Not nearly enough would be my guess. Instead, we're always looking for more.
All this is taking us all somewhere, but exactly where is anybody’s guess.


Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

Very nice column Tom. I agree whole-heartedly with the vast majority of this, and can personally relate to much of it. I didn't have quite as much of the Catholic experience as you, almost none after I was 7 or so. But I was certainly instilled with much of the same ideas, such as the Golden Rule. And I certainly found a Playboy or two out in the woods. Kindred spirits in many ways. I too grew up an avid reader - comic books, Mad magazine, Tom Hardy...non-stop with a book in my nose. Also a big fan of reading history books. I also teach.

I still cling to my newspaper, The Boston Globe, but not even bothering to access it online if for some reason I can't get a hold of my daily copy. We do have too much overload now. Children taught to be seeking distraction from screens from almost the instant they are born. ADHD will continue to rise.

Great point you make about people having you watch something, but then not discussing it! Overloaded with this bombardment, people get confused about what is real. You said - "I can’t remember the last time I looked online for information and didn’t find it." Yes, it is easy to find information about anything, but is it the true information? So maybe at times you only thought you found information about something, only to find out later it was really misinformation. I know I have. Most everybody has. The problem is that many people tend to believe information that they agree with, and disagree with the rest, almost out of hand. If people feel strongly enough about something, it is possible to watch with your own eyes something happen, and then deny the reality of it. People believe what they want to believe, no matter the history, the evidence, the science, the facts, or the truth. And some will never, ever, admit that they were wrong.

I am fascinated in finding out where these next four years take us... I can hardly wait to turn the page!

Radio Patriot said...

As someone who spends most of her free time on the computer, reading various blogs, news outlets, social commentary, etc., I'm constantly ingesting from an information smorgasbord.

Like you, I've always had a love of books, magazines -- reading material of all kinds -- and was seldom satiated. My parents subscribed me to a Book Club at a very young age (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew), and when the book came in the mail, it was a treat that I would devour in a day.

When I was old enough to venture out on my bike, my favorite trip was to the library where I would spend many a summer afternoon exploring the stacks. It was like visiting heaven. Close my eyes and I still recall the smell of the books, and the quiet, interrupted only by the rhythmic sound of the librarian as he stamped dates on card holders glued to the inside book covers. (A recent visit to the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor reminded me of those days...)

Today, I get my information, reading pleasure, and knowledge online. It's a plethora - a cornucopia of delights for those with a love of books and seekers of knowledge. Information at our fingertips is an exhilarating capability!

Though my personal collection of hardcovers are squeezed onto my bookshelves, I now have nearly as many in digital form on my computer, iPad, and smartphone.

A downside to this modern age of technology, as I see it and as you noted, is constant "info overload." Tantamount to sipping from a fire hose!

I agree that social media does tend remove us from the person-to-person, face-to-face relationships, but on the plus side, it opens us to a greater, worldwide community conversation, and provides a convenient way to stay in touch with loved ones. The same might have been said of the telephone when it came into use.

And finally, I'm rarely if ever bored when I can log on, click open my email and read a notice that folks that I enjoy reading have posted a new collection of thoughts that I can savor and perhaps even occasionally be moved to comment upon. Just think, if it were not for the internet/social media, I'd have never "known" you!


The Radio Patriot

Ron said...

You taught " history" huh? Whose version?

Ron said...

Six corporations own your "news" in the USA. And your president just eliminated the smith-Mundt act so......

Anonymous said...

Growing up, The New Yorker, Time, Life,
USED to get myself, but abandoned- New Yorker, Newsweek,
And as a kid My "antiques" (ok, junque)dealer Mother came upon a box of "Big Little Books", I think I read them all.
I think my mother PAID the local drug store something to let me park my butt and (very carefully) read the comic books.
I'd always get the local "City" paper (that had the best comics/crossword) wherever I happened to be, beginning with The Reporter of course. $6.00 is a bit much for The Sunday NY Times (that I USED to get at 9:00 Saturday night in Manhattan).
SEVERAL "amalgamated" news sites,includig ones I deem insufferable, that I can skim across pretty quickly to get the different "takes" of the same story.
My regular go-to citation reference works?
Aesop, Grimm, Seuss, HC Anderson, Sendak, Shakesp.
But apparently even THOSE are foreign to folks under 25 these days.

Mr Ed said...

Since Bubba, you know Bubba the guy that said it all depends on the meaning of is.. is.

He Helped pass the telecommunication act of 1996, and don't get me wrong there were a lot on congress critters that could not wait to get on the gravy on that, both R and D, I imagine our illustrious Snowe had a hand in passing it, I suspect Collins could not wait to deregulate anything if there was a buck involved in getting along to go along.

And then current to now we have the clear bias of getting hillary elected and whores like Collins abstaining from endorsing her GOP candidate Trump, who somehow offended her sensibility of being a total sellout to the queen, king, prince whomever floats her little boat.

Anonymous said...

There is too much information in large part because so much of it is fake. Amazing (and scary) that our incoming president wrongfully claims CNN report was fake, when he himself is responsible for creating and spreading SO much fake news himself, such as Obama not being a citizen, thousands of muslims dancing in the streets after 9/11, Hillary being too sick to be president, ignorant ramblings about the Central Park 5 case, millions of illegals voting illegally, that he really didn't mock a handicapped man, climate change is a Chinese trick, and on and on. Trump’s excuse for helping spread disinformation was that he doesn’t know if things he tweets are true, but also he doesn’t care. “Am I going to check every statistic?” Trump asked. “All it was, was a retweet." This from a president to be!! How can his supporters keep turning a blind eye to his pathological resistance to reality? I guess it really does come down to believing what you want to believe.

Stopp Planned Parenthood of Connecticut said...

Words of Wisdom: l've never known a person that watched porography because they were in love with the actresses or actress.
G.K. Chesterton once said, The man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.

Anonymous said...

The way the above post spells "Stopp" reminds me of our president elect.

Anonymous said...

This "Golden Showers" thing is an extreme example of too much information!

Brian said...

This Trump experiment is getting funnier and funnier and even more surreal. It is making for fantastic comedy with SNL and other comedians. We will never get a bigger walking cartoon joke of a president again. If only this were some funny twilight zone episode instead of real life....