The Post-Information Age Is Here & It Is Drowning Us In Straight Garbage
For every moment we live in the Information Age, we live two in the Misinformation Age. The Internet has both democratized and degraded information, providing us with all we could ever want to know about the world, and a lot of stuff that is untrue, misleading, offensive; in a word, information is garbage. In sheer volume alone, information (or “data”) on the web is astounding; 6,000 tweets are sent out every second, as are two-million emails. More than one-billion websites populate the Internet, a statistic that doesn’t take into account the “Deep Web,” comprised of untold amounts of information that isn’t accessible to the average web user. Our online lives are becoming bigger, deeper, and busier than ever and with each passing moment, so is the Internet itself, but at what cost? In an era of fake news and alternative facts, is access to endless amounts of information actually harming us more than it’s helping?
In a recent piece written for TechCrunch, John Biggs tackles the complex state of online data and argues that “information is garbage.” Living in what he calls the “post-information age,” we have entered a new era in which “the world around us wants to offer us all the information all the time and we have no time to assess what is true, what is not, and, most important, what is valuable.” Biggs also posits that the information age came to an end with the advent of the home computer, when the general consensus was that “information was power. “All of the professions, from politics to legal to medical, were created on a bedrock of difficult-to-obtain experience and education and the recording and storage of important bureaucratic information was the method of control,” he writes, pointing to the exclusivity access to information once carried. But as that access became easier to obtain, the power once held by “knowledge” waned, as it does with any product that saturates the market.
“If the computer said it was true then it was,” Biggs writes of the culture in the 1980s. Back then, there were computers built for specific uses; we used one for gaming, one for word processing, one for calculations, and so forth. That made the information processed by the machines inherently valuable, as they were tasked with executing specific tasks – nothing more, nothing less. In 2017, however, “information is free-form,” and our relationship with information is more about “grazing” than it is about “gathering.” Across countless screens, we are interacting with a deluge of data; everything from the weather in Ft. Lauderdale to the intricacies of Russia’s political system is right there for us, most of the time literally in the palm of our hands. So what’s the problem? Isn’t access to any kind of information we could possibly want to know be an inherently and strictly good thing?
Biggs argues that “information has become so plentiful that it became disposable,” but unlike garbage in a trash can, the disposable information on the web remains on the web. It populates the Internet regardless, and crosses our paths constantly. Social media and blogging have only “added to the trash fire of information,” writes Biggs (not to mention a presidential administration whose taste in “facts” is selective, to say the least). What this spells out is a dystopian future, not centered around themes of rogue machines fighting against mankind, but rather the “best and softest slippers sold endlessly on our Facebook feeds.” It sounds unassuming, but the mindless pursuit of the best deals on slippers we don’t really need is precisely the problem with today’s “post-information age”: we are literally wasting our lives digesting information that simply isn’t valuable.
Citing Neil Postman, an author and media theorist who wrote extensively about technology’s effect on society, Biggs quotes “what [George] Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What [Aldous] Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.” The quote continues:
“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”
It’s readily apparent that Huxley’s fears have come to fruition, and we are now trudging through information that weighs us down. “We need a Postman for this post-information age. We need to give our children an education in sussing out the important information,” writes Biggs. It’s up to the creators of digital information – the media, app developers, Internet celebrities, and the like – to “suss out” the valuable from the wasteful. Curation offers a viable solution to the problem. That is, sorting through the noise and nonsense readily available in the world, and being selective about what is published and what is not. Biggs describes this concept as providing more “real” news “and not so much info on the Kardashians,” and that’s an apt example. What we don’t want is censorship of any kind, but rather stricter filters used by those tasked with disseminating information to the public, so that what we see is only the finest and most valuable food for thought out there…
Read “Information is garbage” at TechCrunch.