Information Overload

  • by , September 26, 2008

I hear all the time that people (and Americans in general) are far less empathetic than the preceding generations have been.  A story breaks about a tragedy overseas, and most of us think "Oh! How terrible!" for about three seconds before returning to our normal, daily routine.  I just did a quick search on Google news for "murder," and found  ~135k stories posted in the past hour. The past HOUR.  And yet, I'm not even slightly perturbed.  I'm surprised on an intellectual level, but I'm not even slightly worried, concerned or paranoid.  My apathy, frankly, is overwhelming.

How did this happen?  Am I a member of a society without morality and conscience?  Have we lost our natural empathy towards each other?  I don't think so.

We simply operate in a world with a far greater stockpile of information than we can ever hope to fully condense and understand.  We don't have the emotional capacity to take in all the wonderful things that happen, and we don't have the resilience to feel badly for all the things that go wrong.  Essentially, the media has made us more objective - the smaller things don't mean as much in light of the bigger issues faced by people across the world.

Is this new perspective a poor one?  I don't think so.



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  1. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, October 13, 2008 at 11:44 a.m.

    I'd like to apply principles of evolution to this conversation because I think they're relevant.

    I agree -- there is an overload, and there is less empathy.

    The question is: what now? Because neither situation can be said to have especially helpful or pleasant outcomes if left to increase or morph unconsciously.

    One can look at the present to see processes of the past. We're overloaded with information thanks to advances in technology not present even 20 years ago, yet much of this information is useless, false, awful, wrong, time-wasting or deleterious -- and we're often failing to produce other results we may want (economically, physically, emotionally, organizationally, etc...). And that which could serve us better.

    Slight changes over a long time have large-scale impact. The information gluts and empathy reductions have happened massively over a relatively short time, though -- small changes have had massive impacts in exponentially fast ways. Like connecting technology to every single person, with a human population replicating and doubling in population numbers every 50 years. This is the exponential factor and it is unsustainable. As a example of it, who do you know without a cell phone today? Just 20 years ago, cell phone ownership and use were, in fact, rare.

    Evolution of any system or living thing requires three things: informational continuity (preservation); informational augmentation (an increase in complexity); and informational discrimination (a set of rules where certain information is selectivity abolished, reducing unnecessary complexity).

    One might conclude: As a result of things becoming so very complex, we might consider looking for and listening to elders (wise ones), and start to be discriminating in our choices. If clear, sound information is critical to thriving (and it is) and empathy is, too (and it is), we might want to further evolve what we value, what we plan for -- and what we can be conscious and aware of.

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