Information Overload is Our Main Problem

I often puzzle over whether I should be concerned with our political situation and write about it or just get on with life. The situation often appears utterly hopeless, not because there’s nothing we can do but because there are so many choices and possibilities as well as too much information to process. Human beings are not meant to have so much stuff to think about which is why, as hard as we try, it feels like we are increasingly overloaded not just with things to do but also the knowledge that problems are multiplying faster than solutions. Any reasonable look at the current state of politics shows that every possible solutions to the critical short, medium and long term problems are just quick-fix-its that are designed to enrich some set of grandees. And knowing that, knowing that to put your faith in Obama or any conventional politician is a sure road to hell just plain hurts. We sit here at our screens and really we are in pain and if we are not in pain then we are largely unconscious or enlightened masters.

Information overload is the most direct cause of our political and social problems. The more intelligent and compassionate you are the worse it is. So how do we create a situation where expanding our knowledge can help us rather than weaken us and make us miserable. Other people just ignore stuff that is difficult or inconvenient to think about–why do we persist? Should we?

What we lack is a positive framework to put our insights and realizations into something we can build on. What that entails I’m not sure–but it’s worth thinking about.

But the first thing we need to do before we go any further is to have compassion for those that choose to hide and not think, yes even the yahoos who believe that the Bible is literally true. What if they didn’t? They don’t have the ability to navigate doubt and intellectual cross-currents–they would be swallowed up and driven mad so they survive by ignoring the blaringly obvious contradictions and clear fictions in the Bible (in fact few fundies actually read anything other than carefully selected passages of the Bible). Few of the people who actually vote for Republicans are bad people who are as glaringly selfish and destructive as the Republican public policy positions would indicate–they just want some sense of security and certainty and belongingness in a world that seems to have gone mad. That the people they are voting for actually seek to create a world filled with war, violence, pornography, materialism and hedonism and then blame others is to painful to look at. To seek alternatives that don’t offer them a place with dignity, that doesn’t offend their sense of public morality as abortion, gay rights and feminism as well as “patriotism” obviously is not going to happen easily. Most importantly these communities in the “red” areas of the country don’t want to move away from prejudices and traditions that make for a common sense of community. Generations ago it would have been far easier for them to stay in traditions because contrary information was not widely available–but today they must make a strong act of will to deliberately pull the wool over their own eyes (as the sub-genius movement suggests).

We may not “like” these people but we are required, if we truly believe in egalitarianism and democracy, to accept them and the fact they will not change sides easily or automatically believe in gay marriage or peace. Cooperation and compromise with them is required (and not with the Republican and some Democratic politicians that run confidence games on them).

Second thing we need to do is have compassion for ourselves and see how hard it is for us to swim against the current and acknowledge that just surviving without running screaming into the street (though some of us may do that from time to time) is quite an accomplishment. So we can pat ourselves on the back for a sec and then start looking for a way to use those muscles we have develop to start swimming with the stream creatively and get something done. With that in mind we must understand that inner and outer work is the same and that for that work to be effective we must, must, must be part of communities focuse on building something. Giving each other insights, keeping the information flowing as we have been doing is part of what we need to do but it is not enough because unless we build something with that information we will just get more and more frustrated–we build and create something. For example, building a wiki or database like this 9/11 timeline. There are other kinds of collective actions we could take as well–if anyone has any suggestions I’d like to hear them.


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    • banger on August 9, 2008 at 01:35

    and suggestions

  1. …is the starting with the WTF basic question of process and perception.

    I’m not sure that all fundies are that way out of intellectual necessity; I’ve known quite a few devout people whose world view is very very fundamentalist who are genuine scholars; and others with wide ranging minds or great art who simply embrace it as a baseline.  

    Also not entirely sure that pornography and hedonism are bad things :}

  2. can’t entirely process your essay.  This struck a nerve, though:

    Human beings are not meant to have so much stuff to think about which is why, as hard as we try, it feels like we are increasingly overloaded not just with things to do but also the knowledge that problems are multiplying faster than solutions.

    It’s how I feel about the many scandals in the Chimp administration.  So I picked one or two to focus on and follow (for me, the biggie was politicization at the DoJ and the U.S. Attorney firings–when you factor in Don Siegelman and other politically-motivated prosecutions, that scandal alone can keep you busy) and kind of read about the others without trying to follow every detail.

    Know what I mean?  Pick your battles…others will pick theirs…and together we can attack the whole mess.

  3. both on the fact that we have information overload and that not having something to do with all that leads to frustration (and flamewars too, I think).

    So far, it seems that we’ve assumed that we come together to share information and leave it up to individuals to decide what/if anything to act on. Group actions have never really gotten off the ground here.

    I think that kind of organizing is easier for local groups because a small group can have an impact on local issues. The kinds of things we talk and learn about here are often global. Its hard to imagine how a small group of people can have an impact on issues this large. And with the seriousness of the problems, its hard to put energy into something that will not have big impact. It quickly becomes a catch 22.

    Just my 2 cents. No answers though.  

    • Edger on August 10, 2008 at 00:18

    And come to the conclusion that I disagree, and that although it might appear so at first I don’t think we suffer from information overload at all, but from “bad data” or “pseudo-information” overload. Purposely in many cases manufactured to produce a GIGO effect. John McCain’s recently begun spam campaign is a classic example. Wingnut trolls are a symptom.

    I think that we suffer from a lack of good information, and suffer from an overload of static, distraction, lies, outright malicious propaganda, and disinformation, and that the “overload” if there is one is what is felt while trying to sort and dig through all of that for good information, and that those are probably the main drivers behind the growth of blogs on the part of the left. Those were my drivers at least, when I began blogging, after commenting and discussing on blogs for awhile, and still are…

    • banger on August 10, 2008 at 15:43

    I’m convinced that width of info makes depth suffer for one thing–also that we can only keep so much info running arond our brains. What we lack are good classification systems to handle it. Theoretically you are right but the more intense the volume of information the more sophisticated the software and taxonomy needs to be. With “knowledge” more isn’t better. What is better in terms of an audience if a musician knows how to play 10 instruments barely or one instrument excellently. On average you’d chose the latter.  

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