Monday, August 29, 2005

Too Much Information

Greetings, OOTJers. My name's Simon (Fodden), and I'll be your guest blogger for the week. I'll be serving up strange concoctions such as unbaked notions, parenthetical ideas (three kinds of brackets are hardly enough for me), and idées fixes that I am quite prepared to pass off as distillations of wisdom because I've been around for a very long time. Would you like a beverage with that? Me too, but that'll have to wait until you come up (or down: I'm looking at you, Minnesota, Maine, Montana, Michigan, Massachusets... ) to Toronto.

...Which is where I taught law at Osgoode Hall Law School for a little more than 30 years -- family law and property law, principally. I also did turns as Associate Dean, academic director of the community clinic, mediator between the IT folks and the faculty ("inter-geek"), bad teacher, good teacher, proponent of strange ideas, et ejusdem generis.

So here's the proposition du jour: information overload (a.k.a. "infoglut") is a crock.

At least as it's commonly understood. And for that we might turn to The Free Dictionary:

A symptom of the high-tech age, which is too much information for one human being to absorb in an expanding world of people and technology. It comes from all sources including TV, newspapers, magazines and the Internet as well as wanted and unwanted mail, e-mail and faxes. It also includes the excessively intricate and mostly indecipherable manuals that must be read to operate everything from a handheld device to a software application. It boils down to this: the volume of information that crossed our brains in one week at the end of the 20th century is more than a person received in a lifetime at the beginning of it.
It's that last summing sentence in particular that just doesn't seem right to me. In fact it seems so wrong that I've stood on it to attain the novel heights of Fodden's Law, which, today, is simply this: the amount of information seeking our attention always and everywhere [don't you just love the Derrida global modifier?] remains constant at infinity.

Look out of your window, if you're lucky enough to have one (and if you're not, consider changing your job). There's more data in a single glance than we can credit. Listen, and unless you're in a room papered in egg cartons, the sound bites are numerous enough to nourish your neocortex until the 12th of never. Repeat for touch, taste, smell. It's always been this way. The world is impossibly rich, no?

So what's the problem. Why is it that we now imagine that we're overeating what the world gives ("data," which is the plural past participle of the Latin for "give")? I mean, it is really rather silly to imagine that a Victorian in chaotic downtown London (I like steam engines), if it's the civilized forms that persuade you, was somehow spared the rush of information that we poor modern souls must endure. Seems to me it's got to be something other than the fact of the incoming that gives us grief.

What's your favourite candidate? Talk to me.

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