Information Overload Jeremy Worsham Culture

local_cafe Information Overload

by Jeremy Worsham

Published in Issue No. 10 ~ January, 1998

If you are like me you probably sit down at a computer for what seems like an hour and turn around to find the day half spent. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to do everything that needs to be done in a day. With the introduction of computers and the Internet, civilization has managed to put amazing amounts of information at the touch of a keyboard or mouse.

The problem is not, therefore, the lack of information but the overabundance of it. How we use this new found information depends on whether it becomes a lifeline in the process of evolution or a rope to hang ourselves with. Something has to give and usually that something is a reduction in the time given to other valuable sources of entertainment and information. Gone are the leisurely hours spent reading books. Great speakers have become the reincarnation of the dinosaurs. These once powerful masters of the spoken word are now all but extinct in the age of information. No longer do we savor poetry or the visual arts. Why has this happened? What can one do to save themselves from this barren wasteland void of artistic efficacy? This is a guide on how to save ourselves from the clutches of the Microsoft empire and how to recognize when you’ve strayed too far from a balanced path of learning. It is also a look back at the days when book reading and speech were king and why they have diminished in popularity.

Churchill, Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry V; the fact that all of these men were great speakers is no small secret. Even madmen like Adolph Hitler could make this list. Where have the great speakers gone? Like the dinosaurs they have disappeared into a haze of speculation and myth-like status. What could be the reason for their sudden disappearance? One theory is that people are not as susceptible to believing what the heads of government have to say. Here in America for instance our wake up call came in the early sixties with the Vietnam war and the underhanded deals made during the forty plus years of the cold war. Too many people were dying for the public to be lulled to sleep by the three stooges, otherwise known as Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Another theory is that the truly great speeches come only when there is a great need for unity among a group of people. Wars, racial inequality, and the deaths of great leaders can not be substituted with political acceptance speeches and state of the union addresses. But there may be still another reason why speeches are no longer as great as they once were. Perhaps the overload of information brought on by the invention of the Internet and the computer has left many people weary of the absorption of still more information. As members of the information age we do not have the time or the energy to listen to grand, florid speeches. This combined with the lack of the right circumstances and faith in our government officials has led to the demise of the great speakers.

With this in mind it is easier to understand why reading has diminished in popularity. One simply doesn’t have the time to spend an hour or two reading current events in the newspaper much less the contents of a good book. Computers have become, in many ways, clones of books. Like books, computers can transport their users to far off places and other worlds. Like books, computers can be used to express political and social points of view. Also like books, computers have vast stores of information on all types of subjects. Combine this with less strict content laws, lower cost and less space than books, and the written word is all but dead and buried. With so much information “faster is better” seems to be the new golden rule.

Right now, if you’re quiet, you can hear Bill Gates laughing all the way to the bank. After all why read the book when you can see the movie?

There are still some joys found in reading that can never be substituted with an electronic screen, like the sense of accomplishment one gets when they finish a good book, or the discovery of who done it in a mystery, or even the realization that the movie is nowhere near as good as the book. These are the reasons for reading, and these are the reasons why we must keep reading alive. In anything diversification is the key to success (just ask a stock broker), and learning resources are no different. If we allow reading to fall by the wayside we risk losing a valuable form of learning and an entertaining pastime at the same time.

Ok, so now that we know there is a problem how can we solve it? This is the easiest part of the whole ordeal; all anyone has to do is shut their computers off for an hour a day (I know it will take some courage) and pick up a book and read. There is a vast amount of printed knowledge that will never find its way to the Internet and it is up to us to make an effort to find it. If there is anything that we are lacking in the information age it is time, and just like with us, time is running out for the written word. It is time that is the enemy of all human accomplishment, and it is time we as human beings made a change. This is the way to save ourselves from the hypnosis of the electronic screen, and perhaps a way to make up for lost time.

Pif in no way endorses shutting off your computer while reading this magazine. We insist that you read every page.

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Jeremy Worsham attends college in southern Texas. His experiences in the state universities, there, have convinced him that academia is in serious trouble in this country.