Just Say No to Info?

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Are we infomaniacs? What are the consequences of the constant barrage of information that we face everyday? A British study reveals that the effects of this can actually be as damaging
as drug use. In an article on the BNet website Richard
Young reports:

Which Is Worse for Your Brain: Texting or Pot?

It’s a challenge of modern life: email, Twitter feeds, instant messaging, text messages, and other snippets of information are coming at us so fast that it’s hard not to feel under digital attack.

. . .

In fact, a University of London study done for Hewlett-Packard found that “infomania” — a term connected with addiction to email and texting — can lower your IQ by twice as much as smoking marijuana. Moreover, email can raise the levels of noradrenaline and dopamine in your brain by constantly introducing new stimuli into your day. When those levels get too high, complex thinking becomes more difficult, making it harder to make decisions and solve problems — key roles for all managers.

In his article Mr. Young also gives us some quick fixes to this modern muddle (tackling
your email in batches periodically throughout the day rather than constantly, the prioritizing of information,
etc.), but his advice is more for handling your current day at work rather
than really getting to the source of the problem.

This brought to mind an article
by Ken Myers
which I read in last month's issue of Touchstone. Could it be that the problem goes back further than the invention of computers? In his article, Myers addresses these same issues as Mr. Young but focuses more on
the emotional toll caused by information overload.
Referring to the book Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds
Overwhelms Our Lives
by Todd Gitlin, Myers traces our susceptibility to be carried away by information back to Romanticism and the valuing of feeling
over reason.

We expect experiences to have an intense emotional impact immediately, but we want to be able to abandon these feelings just as quickly. Frenetic Java animations on a web page, fast-cutting 15-second commercials, 90-second news reports skimming the surface of hugely complicated stories: All are crafted to offer us a daisy chain of disposable epiphanies.

For commercial reasons, no mass-mediated experience can afford to make us turn off the set or turn from the screen to reflect on what we have seen or heard. We have to want to come back for more. Sensational intensity rather than contemplative depth is the ideal.

Gitlin situates this sensibility in a time long before TV or the Internet: in the Romantic reaction to Enlightenment rationalism, a reaction that established human feeling (and willing) as more fundamental and reliable than reason. Romanticism

urges us to heed the inner voice of feeling. Real life takes place in deep feeling, authentic feeling, feeling that must be protected from social impositions, feeling that was born free and longs to go native. The idea spreads that the individual is, above all, his or her feelings.

But the demands of work, sustaining relationships, and participating in social life require some tempering or management of emotions. So, as Gitlin puts it, “Romanticism must be domesticated, made to fit into the niches of life. . . . Emotions must refresh, not drain or disrupt. They must be disposable and, if not free, at least low-cost.” The goal is a “society of nonstop popular culture that induces limited-liability feelings on demand—feelings that do not bind and sensations that feel like, or pass for, feelings.”

Read the full article here.

I suppose it is ironic to offer an explanation of being overwhelmed by technology and information in a blog post that can be accessed through facebook, but maybe that is why recognizing the source of these things is more useful than simply going unplugged.

NOTE: Image used above is from the first issue of Salvo.

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