What does it mean to be informed? Is there a list of things that one needs to have memorized in order to be considered “knowledgeable”? In an intro to a book organizing a compendium of influential American essays of 2007, David Foster Wallace addressed the issue of the contemporary American’s information supersaturation. He called it “total noise”. In the past year or so, I have been trying to streamline my life. From what phone would best fit with my lifestyle to selecting the most efficient methods of information consumption, I have attempted to limit the white noise in my life that tries its best to drown out the significant information.
Choosing how to consume information is not necessarily as easy as it may seem…
|Not Actually Me
I have recently revisited twitter as a source of information bleeding into recreation (a topic for a future blog post). I fire up the twitter app on my iPhone and what do I see? Nothing. Lots and lots of nothing. I see the same jokes, some witty comments, and many of the same news articles either retweeted or reworded from major news outlets and the “popular” tweeters.
What about my email inbox? There must be something of worth in there, right? Yes… if I am willing to wade through the oceans of crap in order to get there. Personal emails from professors in reference to vital questions about classes are hidden amongst newsletters, generic university announcements that do not concern me, and messages from my mother containing links to the now thoroughly stale video from a bygone era of Star Wars Kid.
Television? Nothing there either. Well, perhaps I am not being fair. There is plenty of information on television. From the popular science and history of the Discovery and History channels to the 24 hour news services like CNN and MSNBC just looking to kill time, there is too much. For me, television has become something to turn on in the background while I have better things to do. Thus leading me into my next source…
The Internet-vast stores of knowledge all shared by the peoples of the world. A series of servers all rigged together in a network allowing the free exchange of ideas. Except the majority of network traffic is taken up mostly by Google searches for inane answers to inane questions, porn, and youtube videos of cats. Don’t get me wrong; I love cats. But when I am browsing news sites and end up staring at an adorable cat playing an adorable keyboard, I cant help but think that perhaps something is a little off. Don’t believe me?
Click it, you won’t.
Ahh, newspapers! In olden times, the preferred method of information consumption was to read stories about the goings on of the world “printed” on “paper” using “ink”. They still exist, right? Believe it or not, they do! In fact, in my ambition, I managed to find one outside of my apartment building and scanned the first few pages to see what I might be able to glean. The front page looked remarkably like the web version of the news organization albeit with all of the blank spaces courtesy of my adblocking extension replaced with pulpy advertisements. While there is something decidedly satisfying about managing to properly turn and fold a broadsheet, the inky residue that I get all over my fingers afterwards is decidedly not-so-satisfying.
You might say, “newspapers have always been like this! They are even smaller now than they used to be!” You would be correct. However, pulpy newspaper is now usually a ripoff of the publication’s internet newspaper. The articles on said version are generally bristling with hyperlinks waiting to take you elsewhere and distract you further. It’s an overload. When you used to have just a newspaper, it was manageable. You could read from the front page to the back page and feel full of information. Now, it is possible for me to get the same information in an email, on the television, in a tweet, via Facebook, as an email alert, or even (if I am willing to wait another day) from the newspaper. The question then becomes an issue of how long I am willing to wait for my news.
The problem of total noise is the issue of redundancy. The redundancy is incredible. (I hope you appreciate the irony of that sentence’s redundancy.) With everyone talking and adding their own perspectives to an issue, information has become more muddled than ever, even if the methods of delivery are getting faster. Information is now being merely repackaged and reused with different adjectives but the same basic buzzwords as articles become updated and expanded when new details emerge. I am tired of having my connected life constantly shouting at me, telling me things that I ought to know lest I run the risk of being considered ignorant or unknowledgeable. But then I consider a life without the internet, television, or a mobile phone and I shudder. I realize that the curse of progress is that we keep telling ourselves that “new” and “more” are equal to “better” and that there can be no turning back now. Could that possibly be true?
|Oh you want some info? There’s an app for that.
What would David Foster Wallace have to say about the increasingly hectic pace with which information is published and consumed? We are in such a rush to be increasingly informed, but if the information comes out muddled and we only end up understanding snippets, are we really informed?
This curmudgeon post is in honor of the late Andy Rooney, truly an inspiraton to bloggers everywhere. Now please excuse me as it’s been more than 20 minutes since I last refreshed my twitter stream.