I have been thinking, and writing, about the problem of information overload for quite some time now. It's really a book in progress, but I haven't decided if it's a novel or n expose, if not both.
Ever since we, as a group, started to become concerned about the ultimate face of Open Salon, a proliferation of website from, by and for OS members (orphans, refugees) has vastly INCREASED the difficulties OS members face in attempting to keep in touch with each other.
There the Orphans group, the Meta Salon group, Fred's OpenSaloon, a Ning site (or is this that?), a Yahoo group, and for all I know there may be others....and since we're cross-posting our articles and cross-commenting on each other's post....what we have here, as Strother Martin so aptly put it, "What we've got here....is failure to communicate."
Here we are, on the one hand, communicating like the web whores we are while simultaneously increasing the impediments to communications.
Despite the long-standing confusion about what Marshall McLuan really meant (was the media the massage, or was the media the message?), the fact remains that it has become both.
The media is a massage for the egos of the media-inflated, the people who live and on the basis of their followings on Facebook, Twitter and the dozen other utilities out there that are all attempting to do the same thing: fabricate the same kind of "online" community that we already have (had?) on (at?) Open Salon.
As one of the perpetrators of this confabulation of Open Salon orphanages (even thought I didn't actually commit one myself), it has become clear to me that the unique selling proposition for Open Salon was the degree to which it cut across the memberships in all these other groups.
OS was (is) in microcosm what Facebook is attempting to become for the internet as a whole....but there's a limit to growth....and Facebook has already exceeded that limit by several orders of magnitude.
There's an absolute maximum number of data inputs that any one person can comprehend at any one time.
For example, you can only attend to seven (plus or minus two) simultaneous sensory inputs. You can hear and see at the same time, unless you are either deaf or blind. You can also smell things, feel things and taste things all at once. That's five sensory inputs, which is the limit based on human sensory apparatus.
But there are two more "sensory inputs" which are the thoughts passing through your head at any given moment....and your reactions to those thoughts, which adds thoughts and feelings to the spectrum of sensory data that we are absorbing during any given moment in time, giving us a sum total of seven data points that we are constantly absorbing during every waking moment of our lives.
We can only read one thing at at time, however, and we can only listen intelligently to one thing at a time, which means that our consumption of intellectual input is linear rather than exponential.
I can - and often do - watch television, carry on a conversation, and read at the same time....but that's an absolute maximum number of intellectual inputs that you can absorb simultaneously.
Of course, I can't really do these three things simultaneously. I accomplish this multi-tasking behavior by time splicing, rapidly shifting my focus of attention from one sensory channel to another in order to create a simulacrum of simultaneous attention which, of course, is impossible because the human brain is uni-directional. We can only REALLY pay attention to one sensory input at a time.
Unfortunately, we are living in an environment where the number of information carrying sensory inputs has increased exponentially.
We sleep (or should sleep) for eight hours a day. Eating, drinking, bathing, defecating, brushing teeth account for a minimum of an hour a day. If you work, that's another eight hours gone, at least. On an optimal basis, then, you have seven hours of discretionary time per day. Of those seven hours, most of us spend at least an hour a day commuting to and from work, which leaves six.
That's still a lot of time, if we use it wisely.
We don't. We engage in idle speculations, day dream about winning the lotto, obsess about who likes us and who doesn't like us at work, rehash the day's events over and over again....and so on and so forth, until we have used up another hour, if not more.
If you have family obligations, they will take up at least another hour a day. Doing homework with a recalcitrant child. Caring for an infirm parent. Negotiating emotional issues with our partners.
You can do your own math, but when you're finished you will be astounded by the small amount of time you actually have to do the things you really want to do.
Now into those few hours, you are being asked to jam the combined input of newspapers (or at least those that are left), magazines (ditto), news programs on television, and the avalanche of data coming at us from the internet....much of which we are creating.
As you increase the number of data sources, you decrease the number of people paying attention to any given data source. As you decrease the number of people paying attention to any given data source, you inevitably end up with more bad information coming into our collective consciousness as outright lies, innuendo, and honestly mistaken misinformation proliferates throughout our intellectual environment....while there are fewer and fewer people paying attention to each outlet, which means that those who know better are spread too thinly to contradict the lies, expose the inuendo and correct the misinformation.
If you do this to a single individual, subjecting them to a constant barrage of lies, inuendo and misinformation, you create a psychosis, often resulting in what we call a nervous breakdown, which is what happens to an individual when that individual is forced to confront too many conflicting, contradictory, and challenging inputs at the same time.
We break down. We curl up in a fetal position and cover our ears with our hands (a classic psychotic behavior) unless the onslaught ceases.
This is why we put psychotics into seclusion because the only antidote to these information overloadsis silence. This is why meditate works so well for so many people, because it provides periods of stillness in one's life.
By the same token, when this happens to an entire society, as it is right now, the entire society goes into a psychotic breakdown, which is what is happening in this culture right now.
There's too much information coming at us from too many directions, and much of that information is simply false, no matter how many times it is repeated, no matter how many different sources it appears to be coming from.
As a culture, we are metaphorically curling up a fetal position, unwilling and perhaps unable to absorb any more bullshit, covering our eyes and ears by refusing to pay attention to the sheer volume of information coming at us, withdrawing from the media environment we've created into a kind of enforced self-isolation.
We are becoming a nation of ostriches and that's not a joke.
You know what happens to the rest of the ostrich when it hides it's head in the sand?
It gets eaten by the next predator who happens to come upon the ostrich.