Information overload

The human dilemma is our responsibility. Glorifying technology is really just another way for us to save face.

Pretty soon, I plan to throw my computer out the window. IâÄôm going to send it sailing through the glass and out onto the street, without a second glance. IâÄôve watched the Rolling StonesâÄô TV-off-the-balcony stunt enough times now to feel fairly confident about the logistics of ceremonial electronic demise, and IâÄôve been around time enough to realize that computers are hardly as holy as we claim them to be. My issue with computers is my issue with technology as a whole: I disagree with its unquestionable omnipotence in our everyday lives. Technology is touted as the improved means for anything at any point in time, and the introduction of new gadgets and cutting-edge software is always met with outstanding applause, regardless of its flaws. Personally, IâÄôm wary of anything that wields such absolute authority. Technology has attracted such a celebrity status primarily because we are a people of fear. WeâÄôre scared of what we donâÄôt know and as easy as it is to marvel at modern science âÄî there is still so much that we donâÄôt know. Even assertions that we have come to know as fact, when stripped down, are predominantly based on social constructions of figurative science. History, cultural and religious practice are also major skewers of assumed fact. In order to combat these uncertainties, we have introduced technology: the virtual purveyor of information, the ultimate fact-checker, the One and All-Knowing Being. Yet instead of releasing us from our ignorance, I would argue that it has only plunged us deeper into fear. Neil Postman , American media theorist and culture critic, explains this phenomenon by using a deck of cards as an example. âÄúIf you opened a deck of cards, and started turning cards over, one by one, you would have a pretty good idea of what their order is,âÄù he says. âÄúAfter you had gone from the ace of spades through the nine of spades, you would expect the ten of spades to come up next âĦ But if I gave you a deck that had been shuffled twenty times, and then asked you to turn the cards over, you would not expect any card in particular âÄî a three of diamonds would be just as likely as a 10 of spades. Having no basis for assumption in a given order, you would have no reason to react with disbelief or even surprise to whatever card turns up âĦ In a world without spiritual or intellectual order, nothing is unbelievable; nothing is predictable, and therefore, nothing comes as a particular surprise.âÄù In other words, technology may have delivered us an unprecedented amount of information, an onslaught of opposing voices, and a busted fire hydrant of ideas, but the deluge is far too powerful. There is no solid foothold or foundation of verifiable truth upon which we may stand. The Enlightenment replaced the power of religion with the power of knowledge, but with the onset of technology, even the power of knowledge has become somewhat intangible. We have voraciously spread the gospel of information and as a consequence, we are now more naïve than our medieval ancestors. With so much knowledge now available, it is reasonable to believe that anything is possible, and if anything is possible, then we rarely question what we read or see. We just believe. Not only has our information economy made us dumber, it has also made us lazier. If you donâÄôt believe me, consider PostmanâÄôs argument: âÄúDid Iraq invade Kuwait because of a lack of information? If children die of starvation in Ethiopia, is it because of a lack of information? Does racism in South Africa exist because of a lack of information?âÄù If technology has come to save us from ourselves, why do these problems still exist? The argument has always been maintained that with so much exposure to new concepts, and current events, we have now evolved into more highly informed citizens capable of creating powerful, positive change in the world. I beg to differ. The majority of us have whittled away countless hours of our lives watching YouTube videos, revamping our Facebook profiles and sifting through e-mail. Even with those who are consciously trying to be active, the results are often pitiful. You want to inspire change? Great! LetâÄôs create a social action website! Then weâÄôll make a Facebook group and get everyone to join! Then weâÄôll start an online chat forum where people can post and discuss global issues and then maybe we can even get people to electronically pledge to cut down on their energy costs. Oh my god, sweet! No, not really. You might be able to attract people from Italy, Taiwan and Belize to join your group and that will seem exciting, like youâÄôre making a difference, but at the end of the day youâÄôre just like any other student group on campus: a bunch of people with plans sitting in a room but lacking the funds or the grit to do anything about it. âÄúRaising awarenessâÄù is always presented as the first hurdle in any upstart social action group, but letâÄôs not kid ourselves here. WeâÄôve been âÄúawareâÄù for decades, with or without technology. WeâÄôve raised awareness about Darfur until we were blue in the face and itâÄôs still going on. Maybe weâÄôre suffering from some kind of âÄúinformation paralysis,âÄù where there are so many grave problems in the world that weâÄôre too overwhelmed to take action, so we donâÄôt. We sit on our hands. As Postman notes, âÄúThe computer cannot solve the question of how to make our lives more meaningful and humane. The computer cannot provide an organizing moral framework. It cannot tell us what questions are relevant to ask. The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most need to confront âÄî spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of past and future.âÄù IâÄôm not saying technology is antichrist, but I am saying all things in moderation. Our society is quick to hype cure-alls, but ultimately the human dilemma is the human dilemma; it is our responsibility. Glorifying the âÄúawesome power of technologyâÄù is really just another way for us to save face. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected]