Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Centuries of Coping with Information Overload

Major advancements in technology have many of us worried about information overload, the decline of literacy skills and even damage to brain development. In the acclaimed movie, “Doubt,” Sister Aloysius Beauvier admonishes students for using ball point pens, claiming students were becoming lazy.

Slate recently published an article by Vaughan Bell pointing us to earlier days when similar worries were prevalent. He goes as far back as Socrates, who said that putting pen to paper would "create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories."
The invention of the printing press brought about worries of the psychological strain that would be caused by the production of so many books. In the 18th Century, when newspapers entered the scene, people worried about social isolation. Later, a few warned about the mental health risks of a schoolwork. And the list goes on.

In an interview with On the Media about his article, Bell says, “And one of my favorites is from the British paper The Daily Mail, which is famous for its bad science headlines: ‘How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer.’”

Whenever there’s been a societal technological advancement, people worried about it. They told themselves it’s too much and that, this time, it’s worse than before.

In a blog post about Bell’s article, David McRaney summarizes, “There has always been more to take in mentally than we could spend our time digesting.”

Clay Shirky says it’s not a problem of too much information, it’s a problem of filter failure. We have to adapt our filters to the new world. Each generation has to learn how to cope with its new advancement.

Ironically, we have gone and created a whole “information age” for ourselves. We want to know what we want to know when we want to know it. And we often turn to technology to give us the answers. The good news is that we can turn to technology to filter out the information we don’t want. And at times, we can even turn it off altogether

Regardless, we will learn to cope just as those before us did.

And then it’ll all change again.

from "My Two Cents," PRSA Byline March 2010