As far as it concerns the world we live in right now, Aldous Huxley’s dystopian vision is clearly dominating. There really is overall information overload due to the always developing technologies and their need to be adopted by us. And that is a result nobody can really bring to a stop. One possible action is still there as the previous generations didn’t have any information to base their understanding about technology and its influence.
In a way, it might become possible to use this information overload in our favor, to design, establish and cultivate systems of perception that would help filter the information coming in, to effectively use the technological tools we have. However, that too sounds like the next utopian structure where new problems would arise.
In previous generations when the information flow was ensured by word, then expanding to written form, print, and spoken form, radio (that might already be arguable example for this point), Neil Postman questions whether there still can be a Rational argument when it comes to the form of television (now, other audiovisual media, Internet) as the information transmitters. The content of a book, for example, didn’t have to compete with its form that would be highlighted, emphasized. Although, there still did exist some attention to the form, as examples would be the cover of book, the illuminated decorations and initials etc. those were just minor attention grabbers from the main content. The main focus was put on the information and therefore it was qualitative. As Postman sees, the information flow with the rise of audiovisual media (more specific, the television) has lost that quality value as they tend to put the emphasis on the form where the information is packed in. Also the interactive relation between the medium and the user has been called into question. With the print media the user was given a great deal of visualization by him/herself and that probably is the best so-called interactiveness a medium can give.
Television brought almost overwhelming passiveness with presenting everything with solely based on images, sounds. Only or involvement might be choosing the channel; however that is also being controlled (or drowned in the amount of channels available). The whole system and reasoning of putting the programs together adds to the idea of television not being able to shape the Logical argument. This could be over-generalized, but as a commercial institution, it is based on the measurements of audiences watching, the ratings, shares, and aims for commercial success and stability, not the critical presentation of information.
Partly this is true, however the development of television since Postman’s book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ has made slight progress with more analytical and critical programs presented, about politics, social events, art, sports. But actually the information still is packed and delivered to the audience in huge amounts, often distorted exactly due to the quantity. With the appearance of Internet, that amount of information flow has increased hundred and thousand times. In a sense, it’s as if people are being drowned in it.
Another concept that Postman attributed to emphasize the information overload was that of info-action ratio, the correlation of information received and action that the consumer of this information could be expected to take. “It [information] comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don’t know what to do with it. ” (Postman, 1990). This couldn’t be closer to the truth with the Internet at our feet, or rather – over our heads.
With this information overload no doubt it’s easily to get confused. Sort of ironically, it happens also by writing this exact essay, looking for references and other material, related with the subject or even completely unrelated (the example of books’ formal design, finding out the correct English term of ‘illuminated initial’). However, without the use of Internet one would not be able to locate this specific, needed information in less than 20 minutes. Of course, it depends on the purpose of why the specific information is needed, if needed at all.
On the ‘initial’ example it just saved some space that would’ve been be used by the author simply for describing it. That brings the role of education in increasing the information flow even more. In universities, maybe also in some secondary schools, it is adopted to guide students in filtering the information, analyzing it, making sense and use of it. But in some cases (often in elementary school system) it is not done carefully enough, or it may not even be possible to enable such education (putting unreasonable restrictions on access to Internet, banning, prohibiting mobile phones etc. This is very important stage in individual’s development and if certain skills on how to deal with the information explosion have been acquired already in this period, the future could give more intelligent and capable professionals in media – publishing companies, newspapers, TV – where Frank Schirrmacher (editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) sees crisis at the moment, since leaving things as they are won’t help dealing with it.
Another argument pro-action in schools is the strong correlation of Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD – a neurobehavioral developmental disorder with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity as key symptoms) and Internet addiction, especially in elementary school students (Yoo et. al. 2004). This has actually coined unofficial term Internet attention deficit disorder, where important work is mixed with constant being on-line, lack of focus on necessary tasks and attention drifts to meaningless video viewing, Twitter status updates, e-mail checking etc.
This disorder seems to be the very consequence of information overload; it presses closer and disrupts us from activities we used to perform much efficiently. We probably should consciously see technology as a tool, the same goes with media – all the information-providing platforms – and not to misperceive it for something that has soaked into our world and existence till the bone.
However, as every new technology has been emerged and will emerge, we take it in and with time merge it into our life (becomes almost as nature itself, in philosopher’s J. Ellul’s thoughts). The most fearsome thought right now would be the moment when technology really becomes nature and literally merges with out body and mind. Consider David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. Probably the process has already begun.