Friday, June 24, 2011

Drowning in Information in the era of Twitter and Facebook


There’s a song by the Police with the lyrics: “Too much information running through my brain. Too much information driving me insane.”

It’s not a particularly good song but I have a passing attachment to it because it was on the first album I ever bought. I say passing attachment because, like the first person we ever kissed, we may not want to think too much about it; scarlet hair with black roots, an anarchy tattoo on her arms and a pair over oversized Doc Martens etc.

The strange thing is these lyrics were penned in the 1980s when there wasn’t so much information, when there were four channels on TV and my weird friend Mark used to freak out my mother by hanging out in outlandish shirts and pretending the TV set was a synthesizer.

These days there are a lot more distractions. Even as I write this I am hearing bleeping noises from someone else’s smart phone and picking up my BlackBerry, mistakenly thinking someone may have commented on my latest idiot status update on Facebook.

Why do we do this anyhow? Recently I read a story about a wedding that was halted because the groom had to update his Facebook status. To “married” from “it’s complicated,” I’m assuming.

Maybe we do it because we are starved of attention in this frantic world, or we want to make ourselves look clever, or we do it because everybody else seems to.

Back in the day people met up to speak or imparted information at press conferences. Now they tweet; if they are politicians they might even tweet their underpants in a state of excitement.

I have these random thoughts as I am on the highway, checking Facebook postings and trying not to hit a truck as I read an article about distracted driving. I’m starting to wonder if we are all distracted. I am wondering why Americans call lorries trucks and if I can get to 250 points on Word Mole before the lights change and I get rear ended.

I am half interested in a story about a cat who has been caught barking. I’m assuming it’s not the same cat caught moonlighting as a cat burglar. I’m marginally interested in a study that says women who have sex before they reach 16 are more likely to be divorced. Maybe they get bored with sex because they’ve been doing it for too long.

Somebody is wondering on an obscure website if the woman’s team can capture the imagination of the country like the 1999 World Cup Winning squad did but I don’t care in the slightest about this because I have no conception about the 1999 concept and don’t even know what sport it is.

But I am starting to feel the information overload is leading to a collective attention deficit. I read a number of mentions of Peter Falk before it suddenly hit me – he’s Columbo. I loved that guy. He was part of my childhood.

An obscure bar I followed because it prompted me has invited me to an event I’ll never go to and somebody I once had a five minute conversation with in 2001 is posting lots of pictures of their kids. It now occurs to me that people I hardly know may be saying the same things about me.

Now a friend is telling the world her daughter stepped on a classmate’s “willy,” Liverpool FC have a new kit, the Hampton Coliseum has tickets for Chaka Khan (who must look awful now), Kelly from the Office is shopping, The History Channel informs me King Philip’s War began today, Moby is asking me to advise him on what single to release next and Jennifer Fabulous has a new blog posting – finally something worth actually reading.

But seriously this is enough to make me breathless and my efforts to sit down and read War and Peace, are disrupted by the bleeping of my BlackBerry.

In less distracted moments my mind turns to a rock temple I have heard about in Sri Lanka where you can sit in silent meditation for days or my favorite abbey Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.

I think of a time when there was no internet or buzzing communications channels, when news could wait and when life moved with the quiet ebb and flow of the seasons.

In these quiet cloistered places where the sun drifts slowly from the sun dial, and spreads across the hallowed spaces between the arches, marking out the afternoon; where water fell into cool stone fonts, was there once a reprieve from the world? Was there a time when mankind was free from these distractions, when we could complete our lives and find out who we were?

The answer to this question, as contained in A World Lit only by Fire, a brief history of the Middle Ages by William Manchester, which has a Facebook page,  is a rather resounding no. According to Manchester, a large number of those devout monks were up to no good and nunneries doubled up as brothels. If you were unfortunately enough to venture into a typical medieval village you would find rampant incest before you were swiftly cannibalized.

Distractions, it seems, are nothing new.





17 comments:

  1. Haha thanks for the shout out! :P

    And I definitely feel like the world has become overloaded with information. My iphone is sadly attached to my hand and I know it drives people nuts and I know I have a problem, but I'm so dependent on it, it doesn't matter. Sigh.

    And I actually have a "friend" who facebook statused all the way through labor. All the way until the kid popped out and was in her arms. She couldn't just enjoy the moment, ya know.

    Great post. :)

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  2. my barking cat video is better than your barking cat video.

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  3. thanks Jen - euwww - that's serious Facebook addiction. Actually after watching the barking cat vid, I didn't think it was so much like barking, Mollie.

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  4. Whew, I'm with you about there being too much going on out there--- makes my notion of spending the rest of my life in a cave very appealing...

    Information overload doesn't even begin to describe it.

    Great post, as always :-)

    Oh, and in regard to Arkansas and the sea... about the closest we get are our crazy rivers. Though, the way they've been flooding the last couple of years, we might as well be at sea. Two Christmas's ago my father and I were riding south along a flooded freeway trying to get home while in the freeway lane next to us.... a beaver was swimming hard against the current headed north--- best thing I'd seen in years :-)

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  5. Coincidentally, a couple of nights ago, a huge windstorm passed through here and knocked out the power to the whole town. We were suddenly without electricity, lights, and internet. We felt odd for a little while, kind of lost. But then we came around and it was kind of nice. The kids played Scrabble (on a board, not on a computer screen) by candlelight. I washed the dishes by candlelight too. We sat and talked and relaxed. The power was only off for about an hour and a half, but it was kind of nice. Of course, as soon as the power was back, we were all right back on our TVs, computers, and gadgets.

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  6. I couldn't agree with you more on this topic. There are just somethings that should be shared privately, and that's that!

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  7. Women don't get divorced because they're bored of sex. They divorce because they're bored of sex with that person. ;)

    Otherwise, I think this is a valid point. And about that medieval village thing, give Pillars of the Earth a read. I read that and seriously begged for some distractions. WORST BOOK EVER. But I <3 Tolstoy.

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  8. Yeah, I was waiting for the cat to bark. That's not barking. Seems everyone things they're onto something revolutionary, including felines. I agree with your sentiment, and Jennifer's posts are fabulous.
    xoRobyn

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  9. we need distractions as we need to look away from our mundane, boring lives...my facebook has only game posts and birthday notes...what does that say about me...I wonder....

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  10. Oh my, I absolutely relate to this post. It reminds me of the craziness of Googling "internet addiction".

    I'm hoping to take the next four days off and spend it somewhere without a cell phone signal. The probllem is that is there is a signal, I will definitely be back on my iPhone and laptop.

    Fountains Abbey looks stunning.

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  11. I have just returned from a tech-free vacation. No internet, no computer, and no phone. Nothing. And, after an anxious first day...I loved it. Yes, I missed reading blogs and talking to people on twitter and all of that. The days seemed twice as long - in a good way. So I'm thinking I may just cut back a bit and, in a roundabout way, add some years to my life. It's really disheartening to calculate how many hours I've trickled away looking at Youtube videos and pictures of cute cats, stupid people doing stupid things, etc.

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  12. My close friend and I actually talk about this subject. Internet has become a great distraction. Some people are just too hungry for attention, posting things that the rest of world need to know. Like what they're eating, how much they shampooed and some other pointless rants. There's a PM button because there are some things that better not be announced on one's wall. But some people seem not aware of it. And I had to hide so many people on my newsfeed.

    I think that life was less complicated before and people were more real. Friends get together and talk. It's sad that these days they only talk on facebook chat.

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  13. I thought I was the only one that played Word Mole!

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  14. David- Great post. It seems we are all so afraid of missing out that our connectivity is keeping us out, and away from ourselves and others. The internet is a huge commodity with vast amounts of information, but it's also a place that we can get lost for hours and hours following links to everywhere or nowhere at all. That's time we can never get back. Never.
    I say sit with a rock. For a good long time. It's summer, enjoy its bounty and beauty--it cannot ever be found in a virtual world.

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  15. thanx e.a.s - the flooding sounds scary. I know Daisy - it puts things in perspective. I know and the lines get blurred Marnie. On I may give Pillars a miss Anna, but rediscovering Tolstoy is good. Agreed Robyn - what's with that cat? I know Rex but we are easily distracted and perhaps our lives suffer. Cool Emm - I hope you found somewhere good.

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  16. this is so true Li, I write as I'm on the internet AGAIN. I know Maria - miss that too. Word Mole is sadly addictive, Deborah. Great advice Jayne - I'm off to find a rock.

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  17. This is so very true. I refuse to get an iPhone or any kind of "smart" phone, but I do have a Facebook where I get to read about friends' rants and daily to-do's. It's so easy to be pulled into the internet and waste astounding amounts of time, and I can't quite say what it is that kept me on there for so long once I'm finished.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    and I are joining forces in another challenge. We're going to visit and comment at each of the participants, starting with the reflections post. We hope you'll join us!

    Shannon @ The Warrior Muse

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