Mar 26, 2012

Information obesity? Don't swallow it!

Great - now they call it 'information obesity'! If you can name it, you know it. My favourite source of intellectual shallowness, bighthink.com, again wraps a whiff of nothing into a lengthy video-message. As if seeing a person read a text that barely covers up it's own emptyness makes it more valuable. More expensive to produce, sure. But valuable?
It is ok, that Clay Johnson does everything to sell his book. But (why) is it necessary to waste so many words, spoken or written, to debate a perceived information overflow? Is it fighting fire with fire? It is cute to pack the problem of distractions into the metaphore of 'obesity', 'diet' and so on. But the solution is the same. At the core of every diet you have 'burn more than you eat'.
If you cross a street, you don't read every licence-plate, you don't talk to everybody you encounter, you don't count the number of windows of the houses across, you don't interpret the sounds and noises... No. Guess what: you focus.
There it is: the stuff in the internet is not information - it is data! And you just go ahead and focus. It is as easy as that.

3 comments:

Sandor Ragaly said...

Well, as a pro for metaphors and their non-"cute" ;-) but heuristic power of giving more *intense* insights (not solely narrowed on ratio as human perception ability): One could, first, also think of other aspects of that obesity image, like not only how many calories burnt - btw, you didn't tell at all what that means relating to information - but also which kind of information, which kind of food gives essential assets, nourishing to one while at the same time not turning you that fat... (quality side).
To go on further, let me transpose a striking extended metaphor from environmental economics / material and energy flow accounting (incl. energy inputs of a national economy, substance outputs to the environment (like CO2) and the flows between e.g. econ. branches.
This is also called "industrial metabolism", pointing at questions like: material inputs to industry always equals (sooner or later) the output masses, and if you consider permanent growth, you are tracking the problem...
What about now the fruitfulness (this is no rhethoric question) of an "information metabolism" - and sicknesses here of people because the offered "food" has quantitatively (qualitatively?) "exploded". Focus, selection is clearly needed (and ever was used), but HOW to? What are the new(?) or stricter criteria to select and process adequately, and what does it has to do with the *output* side of this metaphor (productivity? happiness? relating to specific *inputs*, qual. and quant.y?)
So, perhaps there is more in these metaphors than just a visual equivalent to the word's direct denotation, also, because powerful images with some more degrees of freedom for one's imagination may stir this (scientific etc.) imagination...

Carsten Hucho said...

'In principle yes'. A metaphor could do so much to stimulate imagination. But in this case it sounds so familiar: the memories of the 'good old times', when things were supposedly so much better.
No, it is just a filter-mechanism.
In the past the filter was essentially: cost of publication. It simply cost you to publish a book and to spread your very personal nonsense. But did that warrant higher quality?
If you visit a library - do you really read everything that crosses your path? Don't you have your corners, your network of titles, authors, experts, jokers... that helps you through the chaos?
Today you can put anything out in the wild within seconds (some even demand 'every academic should be blogging' :P ).
But nobody will read it, seriously. The author has to put effort into being found, being read, being quoted.
It is simply not true that all the content out there is flooding us. It is a background-noise. Standing out might even be more difficult than before.
My recommendation to prevent obesity stands: don't swallow all!

Sandor Ragaly said...

Mmh I think we drift into two separate topics: One, the role and use of metaphors for creating and mediating knowledge. Two, Selection. I first did not get what you meant with "old-fashioned" and "no, it's about selection", but now (hopefully) got, you mean this reading down. Well this of course is just one of many measures to speak to the audience (with the advantage of news value "personalisation", and with disadvantages). No, I wanted to stress the use of not-only-rationally-appealing metaphors. The other point is clear, more or less self-evident: that selection took place, and now has to take place, as I said, under conditions of exploding information quantity and quality. Yes, quality, too, (in absolute terms) albeit hidden in a much higher rise in quantity. So selection of course, the seduction and question in one we have to face is: How?
Because it is not only that in a kind of democratic publishing, there are amounts of accessible material you can use - even on your special field of knowledge - but: *there are also amounts of really good accessible material you can use! * And that makes it more difficult to select and more seductive to at least "take a look" for our procedures of looking out, exposure, selection, processing/evaluating (and consequent behaviour, if one likes). We have to adapt, of course by becoming stricter in our selection criteria, perhaps by rearranging these critera, or by a new way of handling the information plus, making it less time-consuming, but at the same time allowing for wider nets between information, topics, allowing for better comparison. So, it is not just: select, which already did the neandertalensis, but it is to adapt selection und really new conditions.