Category Archives: Internet

The Burden of Consuming Information

Via this post on information inundation from Rob Horning at TNI‘s Marginal Utility, I just came across this post by Cheri Lucas on dealing with the burden of consuming information on the Internet.  I’m sure many have seen Lucas’s thoughts before, but she really articulated a feeling I’ve had to varying extents over the past few years:

I have a Fear of Missing Out on the best links and stories of the day, hesitant of taking breaks from Twitter—of jumping off the moving train—because I feel it will be harder to jump back on, to catch up to everyone else, to saturate myself in all that’s relevant again, to know what now is.

[…]

But I’m paralyzed from Twitter and the resources that provide the brain food I crave—curator’s emails of must-read links (like @brainpicker‘s newsletter), WordPress’ following feature of blogs, fellow bloggers’ reading roundups (like Miranda’s What I Read This Week), and weekly recaps like Nieman Journalism Lab’s This Week in Review. And I now receive Twitter emails summarizing the stories shared in my feed, which are representative of my activity, but . . . there’s just too much to respond to. I wonder when we’ll come to a point where I could hire my own personal curator—someone who knows my interests and what I like to read, and who could send me one handpicked link each day.

I think this feeling is familiar to anyone who blogs or in some way taps into the blogosphere, and even more people probably experience something similar.  (Horning situates the feeling in the context of a general concentration drain and exhaustion that anyone who sits in front of a computer all the time feels; it’s all about the decoupling of thinking and concentrating to him.)  My take on this phenomenon is a little different from Lucas’s; I don’t feel the need to know everything first, but I do feel the need to know it at some point.  Every bit of information I don’t absorb feels like a lost opportunity to better myself.  Even talking about this in terms of “information” really drives home how pathological the whole thing is.  Information isn’t knowledge but data, abstracted away from substance and content and valuable only in purely functional or formal terms.

I’m sure I’m guilty of the sort of status signaling Freddie De Boer so forcefully and persuasively warns against.  One reason to read more posts, gather more data, is to show your peers how much you know and what you have to say about it.  I’m almost certainly doing it right now.  But there’s also something to the frantic consumption of blog posts, essays, and articles that is itself addictive.  It’s like many obsessive activities that give the illusion of reward and satisfaction but demand constant repetition to sustain that feeling.  So now I constantly prune my RSS feed, trying to pare it down to just the blogs I really want to read, and when possible those that don’t update all too frequently.

My final thought on this, though, is that it all doesn’t matter that much.  Concentration overload and information mania really do afflict people, but it’s a small subset of Internet users and an even smaller subset of people in the United States or the world who subject themselves to this craziness.  It’s the sort of solipsistic behavior that results from activity in a sphere cut off from the rest of the world.  In the end, it probably isn’t worth all the fuss; we should just try to recover the reasons why we’re part of the blogosphere in the first place and adhere to those in the simplest, least stressful way possible.

While I’m at it, though, I’d like to recommend Rob Horning’s Marginal Utility and pretty much anything at The New Inquiry more generally.  Horning’s done some great thinking and writing about social networks and the social and economic roles they might serve in capitalism, and TNI turns out an interesting mix of social/cultural commentary and political/economic analysis.  Check ’em out!

Image by dmelchordiaz via Flickr

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