wasting bandwidth since 1999

The Danger of Information

Too much information.

For anyone connected to a digital network of any kind that’s either a fact of modern life or a hazard waiting in the wings.

However, a writer in the Op-Ed section of this morning’s Post believes that the “information avalanche” enabled by all our communications tools is also a potential danger to our democracy.

All of it “is burying us in extraneous data that prevent important facts and knowledge from reaching a broad audience”.

Or maybe his concern is that fewer people are reading big media publications like the Post.

Which highlights the larger problem: The overload siphons audiences and revenue from newspapers such as The Post and other outlets that can spread important information, forcing these media to shrink and to rely increasingly on advertising to stay afloat. These trends predate the Internet era, but they’ve gotten worse.

And, of course, it’s the technology that’s to blame.

Rather than call for government regulation of technology itself, perhaps the best way to limit the avalanche is to make the technologies that overproduce information more expensive and less widespread. It could be done via a progressive energy tax designed to keep energy prices at a consistently high level (while providing assistance to lower- and middle-income Americans).

In a companion to this stupid rant, Ben Stein, writing in the New York Times, also believes all our devices have become “modern-day balls and chains with which we shackle ourselves”.

What would we do if cellphones and P.D.A.’s disappeared? We would be forced to think again. We would have to confront reality. My own life is spent mostly with men and women of business. I have been at this for a long time now, and what I have seen of the loss of solitude and dignity is terrifying among those who travel and work, or even who stay still and work. They are slaves to connectedness. Their work has become their indentured servitude. Their children and families are bound to the same devices, too.

So, just get rid of the technology – or make it so expensive that traditional media is more financially attractive – and all will be right with our lives again.

However, the underlying message from both writers (and their editors) is that we would be far better off with a limited flow of information.

And that a few traditional filters of that information (like the Post, the Times, and Ben Stein) should be the ones telling us what’s important.

No thanks. I’d rather learn to sift through the flow of data myself.

1 Comment

  1. Dave

    You’re spot on.

    Newspaper people simply do not get it. Newspapers have always been paid for by advertising and built on the assumption that people want to know a little about everything. We’re switching to a world where advertising (although ubiquitous) is ignored by most and consumers are more interested in focused information in certain areas.

    Newspaper people are approaching the switch by trying to fudge financial numbers (laying-off reporters and pushing ad sales harder), when they need to be investing in entirely new strategies. (“Better Than Free”)

    Look at the music industry for comparison: an old media-based industry that waited too long to start making changes for the digital age. Although we’re in a golden age for music where anyone can download the mp3’s for an unsigned local band half the world away, it’s an enormous failure for the music industry that they didn’t capture those potential revenue streams.

    News is going to be the same way — we’ll have a golden age where events are covered in hundreds of blogs, neutrally, biased, high quality, low quality, by students / teachers / parents / superintendents, etc, but the traditional news companies are missing the boat as we speak.

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