The Information and Data Overload

“’You hunch like a pianist over the keys,’ he wrote, ‘knowing what awaits you, thinking, Ah, the untold wealth of English literature!  What hidden jewels I shall excavate from the deepest mines of human fancy!’  Then come the macaronics, the clunkers, the flood of bombast and mediocrity.  The sheer unordered mass begins to wear you down” (The Information by James Gleick, 408).

This passage, in laymen’s terms, advocates that the large quantity of information that is currently available to the average Joe is a bad thing.  That centuries, or even decades, ago, information was made and written about because it was important – as opposed to today, where information is written about simply due to its existence.  I do not share this passage’s opinion.  Throughout the selection of The Information, Gleick seems to have a negative stance towards the wealth of information that is rapidly becoming available to us.  He comments on how people are “harassed” and must “cope” with this abundance of data.  Point being, I think the quote above is a fair summary of his view.

I, however, believe that there is no such thing as too much information, as the ability to quickly access and store info on a massive scale can only benefit humanity.  While Gleick’s holdbacks are understandable, they are unreasonable in my opinion.  For instance, while it is necessary to use blogs, search engines, or aggregators to filter all of this data, the user receives the most targeted information possible.  It is tough to not find what you are looking for if you use a search engine.  This kind of customizablity can only be seen as a benefit, but Gleick nonetheless counterpoints that “The need for filters intrudes on any thought experiment about the wonders of abundant information”(Gleick, 410).  While this is true, if someone is looking for information just to find new and interesting data, then it would not be tough for her to find it, as other sites – specifically designed to bring people to thought provoking information – such as Stumbleupon.com will inevitably come to existence to provide that exact kind of exploration of knowledge.

I do not think that information fatigue will happen in this new “Information Age,” as critics said the same thing about the printing press and even the inception of written history before it.  As the prologue mentions, “Information gives rise to ‘every it – every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself’” (Gleick, 10)  Information is a fundamental part of our lives, and I think it is wrong to attempt to slap a limit on the amount of it we, as a people, should have access to.

3 thoughts on “The Information and Data Overload”

  1. I definitely agree with you, that information is not bad to humanity. This “Information Age” is allowing the human brain to grow and develop beyond previous belief. Just like you mentioned, information is a major part of our lives, it is even flowing through our whole DNA. Beginning with reading and writing, the printing press, and now the invention of computers, we are learning how to control information better and better over time. I do see Gleick’s point in saying that we will hit an “information overload,” because we are relying to much on information. However, when the printing press was created it also had some unintentional side effects, such as the protestant reformation, so I believe that Gleick may be correct in a way, but it’s not in the negative way that he seems to be implying.

  2. I believe that part of the argument is that not only that “good” information becoming available, but that there is also an increase in the availability of unnecessary information. Even if the unnecessary information does not prevent us from learning more practical information it definitely takes longer to filter through all the information to find what is “good”.

  3. My favorite thing about the internet and google, is that if I want to know something, I can know it quickly. Being able to quickly look up what a durain is, or what the sin(36.9deg) is has allowed us to focus less on the semantics of knowledge and more about actually using it.

    However I think there is no such thing as too much information. For example, in the Ted Chiang article we read, there is a technology that allows people to constantly relive there past experiences. Being able to dwell on past mistakes would hinder our ability to move on and accept the decisions that we made in the past.

    My opinion is that technolgoy should replace our semantic memories, but not our episodic memories.

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