No Speed Limit on the Information Superhighway
“Information and knowledge: two currencies that have never gone out of style.” –Mr. Wednesday, ‘American Gods’ p. 24
As a young child, reports were a nuisance. Writing something factual either required a trek to the library or an expedition into the dusty world of mygrandfather’s bookcase. There, he had an enormous collection of alphabetized encyclopedias that dated back to sometime in the1970s. Concise and convenient, these reference books supplied the content for the majority of my writing assignments up until high school, when even Encarta – a program that came free with my first Windows 95 Sony VAIO – would no longer suffice.
Now, if a child were to take one of my grandfather’s beautiful encyclopedias and cite it as a source in any level academic paper, the copyright date would immediately sound an alarm and result in said information being replaced with a more up-to-date source (because we all know how much history can change in 40 years, sure).
In a time when the “Works Cited” page was referred to as a bibliography, information wasn’t as readily available. You had to dig. It was great practice for a child like myself who always aspired to be Sherlock Holmes, Harriet the Spy, or even a less gifted Emily Eyefinger. With a constant desire for information and knowledge, much like Mr. Wednesday expresses, I would peruse my grandfather’s collection for fun, though an odd source for reading enjoyment, I’m sure. Instead, I now surf the Internet. What once took a few minutes to find as a sifted through indexes and pages now takes mere seconds to discover.
Today, our need and consumption of said information and knowledge increases at lightning speeds. Our brains have turned into the Blob – the more we consume, the greater our need to continuously consume becomes. Yet, while our brains keep growing and growing, reading and absorbing facts from anywhere possible, our heads become emptier and more hollow. Our advances in technology have made accessing information as easy as the click of a button. We have social networking sites that not only allow us to stay current with our friends’ lives, but with celebrities and the media, too. (This newfangled thing called a blog, the very format you’re reading, is just another piece of this massively expanding puzzle.) We are constantly inundated with so much information that we become overly saturated sponges laying in a puddle of information we’d love to soak up, if only we could.
The speed at which this information comes flying at us is enough to make one’s head spin. One cannot take their eyes off their computer for a moment without missing another 20 tweets posted or Suzie’s weekend plans courtesy of her Facebook status. We have gone from detectives curiously seeking knowledge, to drones that know only how to point and click their browser’s refresh button.
President Barack Obama made a similar remark during his commencement speech at Hampton University this past weekend:
“And meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.”
Listen to his entire speech below:
Mr. Gaiman’s writing is beyond correct – information and knowledge will always remain a desire. But, written in 2001, this readily accessible information was merely playing a supporting character that would ultimately lead to a starring role in our daily lives. Now, we gorge ourselves to the point of being obese with information. Like pie-eating contestants, we shovel in what’s put in front of our faces, but much becomes mutilated, soiling everything and creating a mess. To make life less hectic and distracting, perhaps we should simply refer back to our good table manners. Pick up your knife and fork and cut away only those chunks of information you deem desirable. The rest is simply a garnish – nice to look at but never meant to be ingested.