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.