Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

Information overload?

Published on 07 March 2014
Updated on 05 April 2024

Dougald Hine has definitely got some facts right: our mobile devices are bringing us more words than any of us could ever read, more music than we could ever listen to, more video than we could ever watch…

We are bombarded by information every time we switch on our laptops. For some of us, it starts from the moment we wake up (does your hand automatically reach out to your phone the moment you open your eyes?) and ends right before we doze off.

But what do we do with all this information? Hine says: ‘Information doesn’t nourish us. Worse, in the end, it turns out to be boring.’ Until, that is, we attribute meaning to it.

© Hao Ran Lai, from the series “Mobile Phone – The New Photography” on Flickr: https://ow.ly/ulrZE

How does the journey from information to meaning take place? It ‘involves more than simply filtering the signal from the noise. It is an alchemical transformation, always surprising. It takes skill, time and effort, practice and patience…’

My fear is that by the time our grey matter has time to transform information into meaning, it is already bombarded with even more information. It just doesn’t stop. Until we tell it to.

But that’s the thing: we don’t tell it to stop. We read e-mails in the morning before we’ve had a chance to look out the window; we tap on our mobiles at coffee shops; we see the world through our camera lenses; we memorise events on our memory cards, not in our minds. And the list continues. We skim through content, share it on social media, but fail to really think about it and digest what’s really important.

Hine attributes our constant clicking and swiping to boredom. I agree, and I’ll take it a step further: it has become a dependency. The fault is neither technology, nor the volume of information. It is in the way we choose to make use of technology, information, and our time. Can we break free? Or do we even want to?

2 replies
  1. Stephanie Borg Psaila
    Stephanie Borg Psaila says:

    Thanks Mary. Could be a fear
    Thanks Mary. Could be a fear of boredom too. What if it’s a question of habits? This reminds me of a blog post you wrote, on ‘wilfing’ (or What Was I Looking For?)… ‘Internet surfing with no clear aim, in which the user has a need to be on the Internet, but does not know what to do.’ Can information overload lead to ‘wilfing’?

  2. Mary
    Mary says:

    I’m not sure it is boredom.
    I’m not sure it is boredom. Perhaps a fear of boredom. I think we’ve lost the ability to simply do nothing. Now, when we do nothing, we feel guilty about wasting time. And we need to do nothing on occasion to recharge. We click, swipe, and surf to keep up the pretense of being busy, lest we’re accused of being idle. I’m reminded of the words of Robert Louis Stevenson: ‘Extreme busyness is a symptom of deficient vitality, and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity.’

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