Humanity is threatened by information overload

One of the greatest malaises of this century is the daily information overload that an average person has to deal with. With the advent of the Internet, one is never free of information to read and digest, be it from e-mails, blogs, special interest group mails not to mention social media. Add to these the regular sources of news like newspapers and magazines, not to forget the 24/7 news channels, which thrust opinions down our throats in the guise of news. And how can one forget the ubiquitous smartphone, with all the Apps, ranging from WhatsApp to Viber, and the seamless connection to the Internet, which ensures that one is constantly connected to another person, digitally, if not in real terms?

There is a sense of being swamped by the information that is available, for the asking or even without asking! In the war for TRPs is the much-touted Satyamev Jayate, which for a couple of weekends, was actually pitted against Prime Minister Modi’s Man ki Baat, (probably modelling itself on the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s unscripted talk-show Alo Presidente, which was aired every Sunday at 11.00am on state television and radio stations).

Ostensibly, both these programmes were about asking for the public’s thoughts but were more about sounding wise and dishing out solutions. Two episodes of Satyamev Jayate were particularly upsetting when the announcer kept mentioning that Aamir is speaking to the Indian public from France and from Japan! Were the lesser Indian mortals to be overawed by the wise words coming from a higher stratosphere?  

Be it Arnab Goswami, Aamir Khan or any of the other talk show hosts, it is finally about grabbing eyeballs and a chunk of the huge advertising revenue. In Aamir’s case, very obviously so, in his action of first promising and then withdrawing support to the Aam Aadmi Party, before the elections, for fear of offending the biggest sponsor of Satyamev Jayate, Reliance!  

Is there any time left to process the information that one is being blasted with, from all sides? Are we becoming mindless zombies, ready to believe all that is being peddled to us in the guise of information, and running the risk of robot-like manipulation?  

There is a greater danger still and the 19th century sociologist, Georg Simmel, was among the first to hypothesise on how an overloading of sensations could jade urban society and interfere with people’s ability to react to new situations. Twentieth century psychologist, Stanley Milgram, took this information a little further when he used the concept of bystander behaviour to explain “information overload”. Milgram took the example of the stabbing of a New York woman, in the public eye, over a period of 30 minutes. Whilst 38 people watched this horror from the safety of their buildings, none of them thought of contacting the police. In his paper, Milgram attributed this behaviour to the coping strategies devised by urbanites to deal with information overload. 

In all this, one cannot help but recall Alvin Toffler, who in his 1970 book Future Shock, wrote that, “just as the body cracks under the strain of environmental overstimulation, the ‘mind’ and its decision processes behave erratically when overloaded.”

Perhaps the time has come to take a few steps back to prevent ourselves from being hurtled into a vortex that threatens to take away our humanity. One can only think of the mindfulness that was first spoken of by the Buddha. The only way to keep one’s sanity is perhaps to stay in the moment and not be overwhelmed by the information that threatens to swallow us.

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