Information Overload

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Below is an excerpt from a post at Philosophistry by Philip Dhingra, and at the bottom is my reply.

I feel like am an infovorve. I just swallow information. I have papers I've printed from the Internet, stapled and scattered all over my table waiting to be read. I have URL shortcuts splattered across my desktop. Magazine pages open and sprawled over my chairs and bed area. A laundry list of ideas I want to chew on, from baudrillard to bertrand russell. At the same time, we're approaching the 700th post on this blog. All the while I'm drowning in mp3 albums from my 33GB collection, all eclectic of course.

... My current method is like that of a conquest. I search, acquire a target, rip through the scroll button, and out comes an budding understanding of some sexy topic. Sexiness is what it is, and I think sex is a good analogy. Because, sex, unlike love, can be like chocolate or caffeine...not necessarily pure "addiction" but more like a recreational drug. Except on the Net, I'm high all the time.

... Instead, I have choked, and I am choking on this ever expanding law of accelerating returns. Every few days I trip over some undiscovered mountain of glorious new information.


Is this the proper way to approach the Singularity. Is this what my genes are striving me to do, to become a super information recycler? Should we--can we--transcend our genetic imperative for human progress?

Fuck it. I am man, I am unscripted, I can chill, I don't have to conquer texts and conquer information.

... Time to smell the roses I guess.

This definitely resonates. The net is just so damn full of pure information, and even if you cull out all the crap and fluff, there is just too much great stuff out there for one person to ingest in a lifetime. It's like trying to read all of the interesting books ever written. At this point in history, that's just not possible anymore, and extending our life won't help since new information is created faster than it could possibly be ingested by one person.

Nietzsche once said that reading a whole bunch of books is worth nothing compared to reading one book well. I think he had the right idea. It's not about maximizing absorption of information - and let's face it, our consumerist culture teaches us that maximization is always best - but about getting the most out of any information you take in. It's about chewing on information and savoring it rather than trying to rush through the entire meal, as if this were a meal that could ever be finished.

There is always, I think, a pang of guilt or sadness when one realizes how much great information is out there that can't ever be reached due simply to time constraints. But maybe there's something common to all great literature and art and science and other information, maybe there are some universal principles that one can sort of pull out of any piece (or set of pieces). Maybe, even though we can never read all the books or web resources out there, we can in a way get at the heart of them through what we do read.

I don't know. Either way, I think that anyone who seeks to maximize information, like those who try forever to maximize money, will be disappointed and find ever decreasing value in each piece of information they do acquire. Eventually, a person simply has to stop and smell the damn roses or else the roses cease to exist as roses, and they become mere symbols for what they were before (information or money or whatever the obsession is).

Originally Written: 09-08-03
Last Updated: 12-11-03