Published on 9 April 2009
Over the past years, we have been given the access of increasingly more and more information. Not only are we given the opportunity to get nearly real-time information about all the terrorist attacks, accidents, revolutions and other events happening around the world, but with the evolution of mobile services, we get access to this information just everwhere.
Like Tim Berners-Lee points out in his last TED talk, there is an even greater potential to the world wide web – the interlinking of raw data, and not just documents, making it possible to get a new kind of understanding of the world.
Whilst these new opportunities are very nice at first sight, I believe that they carry one real – but hidden – danger. We humans are just not built for processing so much information at any time of the day. In fact, I believe that this overhead of information brings major pain, in several ways:
Before going deeper into telling the story of how I stopped being an information junkie, I’d like to point out that I see a major difference between media information (all the political, economical, social, environmental etc. information out there) and the domain information (like Slashdot, Wikipedia or this blog).
To me, media information is the “evil” one. If you think of it, most of the mainstream news is bad news: tens of people getting killed in a bomb explosion, an earthquake or a plane crash; millions of dollars lost in a financial crisis; politicians fighting for not really important matters, and so on.
The bad thing about this information is that we cannot do anything about it. And there’s a lot of it pouring in on a hourly basis.
So what do our brains do with this information? Well, I believe our psyche tries to make something useful out of it:
It is after reading Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan (which turned out to be a white swan for him, or at least I like to think so) that I decided to stop reading the news. I do not exactly recall the argumentation but I figured it would be a sensible things to do, and after all, what did I have to loose?
Stopping to read the news is not an easy thing to do. For me, it meant stopping to read the french news, which was about the only connection that I still have with the french language on a regular basis in Austria – I didn’t yet figure out another way to re-establish the connection. More precisely, stopping to read the news meant:
Eventually I succeeded and am in a detox for over a month now. And I ended up feeling a more important, yet hidden (or rather, blurred) pain point of mine, which is my current job. Thinking of it a bit more, I see two ways in which the news overdose kept me from noticing this pain until now: first of all, since I do not read news at work as a means of distraction when my energy level is down, I can’t escape of the pain on a short term. Second, my brain has no more “it could be worse” information (“bad news opium”) left to avoid thinking of the job issue, forcing it to process it in the background as well.
You may ask whether I wouldn’t have noticed that job pain point even with continuing to read the news – I myself also do wonder how much longer I would have been not feeling it, would I still be taking the news drugs. Yet, I truly believe that it speeded up the process somehow.
In the beginning people kept on talking to me about some news event that just happened, asking for my opinion – it felt strange at first, but now that I told more and more people that I stopped reading the news, they don’t come anymore. Perhaps my colleagues at work think I am a bit strange, but I am fine with that. And I will quit soon anyway.
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