Information overload

| Senior Forum Editor

The PC is dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? Or so it seems. Cries about the death of the PC abound, with the corporate sector quickly adopting virtualization (running multiple instances of an operating system on one computer doled out to each employee) and the consumer sector quickly replacing desktops with laptops, and laptops with a myriad of smartphones, PDAs and the like. While the business sector’s “solution” to the PC is to merely virtualize it, when it comes to consumer electronics, the face of the Internet and media is rapidly changing once again. Instead of large screens of richly displayed text and media, slipstreamed “PDA-ready” versions of Web sites dominate mass consumption, and information is shrinking and becoming increasingly condensed—the transition from formal letter-writing to truncated e-mails to texting is evidence of our overwhelming desire to cram where there is no space.

Yet the real fear of information condensation is its ability to alienate. For sure, one could read Twitter for an hour and consume more information than a whole day with a novel—between that and Wikipedia, an endless amount of knowledge exists right at our fingertips: and yet how much of it is really worth reading? If social media conglomerations like Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia exponentially increase the amount of information available to us, they only marginally increase the amount of useful information pertinent to us. Along with this overflow of information, and decreasing signal-noise ratios, what about texture? Could a text conversation ever truly convey the nuance and subtlety of an actual sentence? To be sure, even literature abstracts from reality, but the worst offender by far is that which never even formulates a real sentence.

There is of course an upshot: With increased access to collaborative content necessarily comes increased communication and interactivity with people regardless of distance—and while there is something to say about privacy, the fact that we can communicate with people across the globe with little to no effort is astonishing, and that truly could outweigh any potential drawbacks that the condensation of information has on us.

But the same technology that is suitable for making any level of communication between people possible is not necessarily the ideal method of communicating when it is possible through other means. Do me a favor: Next time when you’re on your cell phone, type out your text. See what kind of responses you get—if for nothing other than shock on your friend’s face, it will be worth it.

  • Thank you

    “Could a text conversation ever truly convey the nuance and subtlety of an actual sentence?” No, it cannot, and thank you for pointing out this enlightened view, which is so rare among our colleagues here.