Doctor, I am suffering from information consumption anxiety.
Welcome to the Information age, and there sure is loads of it.
We live in a world that shits information. Endless readings from multiple perspectives in multiple languages on the most obscurest subjects, and on a page awaiting your anticipated access. Long gone are the days of relying on libraries for information, and gone with it the queues to hire books, gone are the borrowing restrictions on quantity and variety fixing our scope on available knowledge. Gone the embarrassment of trying to explain our way out of those nasty fines. The Internet has by and large reduced our demand on the library of the real world, and each-other as the primary fountain for knowledge. And as the availability of information has meant its approximation itself closer and closer to us, I am now starting to feel some of the social side effects that information’s omnipresent demands on myself and our society.
A typical day in the life of the information age happens during quiet conversations on the street to midway through a university lecture. Sitting down with friends for a coffee, reading the paper, I ask if anyone’s heard of X or Y. All of a sudden ‘Let me just quickly google that’, is answered back to me. Without a second passing, the iPhone is whipped out of its flashy-come-pretentious protective case, and within 30 seconds a selection of possible web pages now presents lots of possibilities. The answer to my question should have been a no, but there exists no ‘no’ in the information age. Ignorance may be bliss but when you can quickly get the information, why settle for ignorance?
I must admit, I have personally benefited. A boy of the information age, growing up alongside the rise and prominence of the Internet and by having personally experienced the many benefits of readily available information. It started one day with Brazilian music CDs, which presented a new language, of which began on the Internet. My parents were unable to provide me with that information, nor could they nurture my interest. So I would turn my gaze to the screen to navigate through those websites that explained metalanguage in detail, and from there to those pages where one could commence pen-pal relationships via email and look up the written lyrics of those very songs. And where my lingo lacked, there were all those translation websites. And although my language learning would depart the Internet for the real world conversation, it aided and facilitated a journey that saw me arrive 5 years on at that age of 19, spending the following 9 months loose in the Brazilian landscape. Access to information was a welcome stimulant and motivating seed in the transformation of a basic interest. Although this may have happened anyway, the speed and ease in which it occurred remains credited to the information readily available on the net. This example is a personal one, but this information is having a large scale impact on societies and individuals across the world. The power of this vast information can be tapped into from any location. Its changing the scope of how we study, where linguistics now speak of terms such as e-literacy, characterise it in global contexts and develop new methods to test for it. It is a social phenomenon, with real social impacts.
The scramble for information is the resulting new phenomenon, politicians are prioritising it in public education policy. The future is in information, its access, distribution, its ability to control and exclude others. It is a new way in which we will be divided, some will benefit at the expense of others. In the social space, and evident in developed economies, utilisation of this information has become a means to ones wealth, or ones procession up the ladder of social stratification, it is vital in an increasingly competitive society. As much as one can resist it, we all are left affected from this reality in one sense or another. For one it has marginalised many, those that have no recourse to afford a computer, those that have no learned or socialised knowledge of its potential uses are locked out of social networks, vast amounts of information and the popular and social references that are perpetuated across into other public spheres. Then there are those that are inside. Inside this mad free for all. Ability and speed in which one can both learn and interpret this new language, full of new codes and conventions, make sense of its logic and use it for ones benefit is what pips one against the other. Information in this medium is creating a new social order, and a new way for ones social stratification. An important factor about the Internet is how we access it, which in general occurs individually, and in isolation from others. So in turn, we may wander what the other is able to access, read, download, and moreover, how fast they were able to do it. We have no way of knowing, and what we don’t or can’t know, in this information age, is what most worries us. Keeping up with the Jones’ of the information age is hard to gauge.
I have embraced my learning as an end in itself, fighting off those questions as to what your degree will enable, to where it will take you, regardless of how many times I am confronted by others about these unavoidable real reminders. No where else but the university do we come to learn from each-other. Big brain-sharing data bases so to speak. Well, this may have been the idea associated in the liberal west in the 70’s where one would sit in the park, with a joint in one hand, a book on peace discourse in the other, in a circle with 7 others, and simple enjoy casually the joy of information sharing. Those days however, are gone. With the world competing for knowledge, for the money and power it may render, this game has radically changed this atmosphere. Universities, like industries, run at a pace, in which one must keep up. And matching the nature of the iPod generation, it’s all about how the I is progressing rather than the we, the university is a factory that manufactures students, not societies. These students must respond to a certain quality grade, measured in information. If this universaprise fails to produce the quality grade, the share price drops (Times Higher Education Ratings). The pressure is however placed indirectly on the product, to perform. Its information that is required, we must stuff it all in, and be able to use it at the right time. And although I try my best to block out this mainstream expectation, I have found myself unconsciously getting caught up in its vicious cycle.
The result is an often complicated and anxious time spent at university. Some of the most free and fun years of our lives are at stake from the attack of never ending information. Its evident in verbs such as cramming, and in the creation of a new phenomenon such as the all-nighter. Like money, it can make you sick, and last week I started realising it. Trying to make my brain pop out of my head, downloading information in Spanish and English, looking up Spanish words I didn’t know whilst reading about a stream of philosophy that everyone had already studied, navigating the uni computer system with a information guide, and trying to do it quickly as I could. Why? Because what I perceive psychologically is that everyone else to already be on top of this, and myself as the isolated odd one out, at risk of falling behind, not just in class, but in the larger scheme of things. I started to feel ill from such socially perceived expectations on my learning. At the fault of these self-imposed imaginary information quotas we mark ourselves against.
So now you think I’m crazy? Well you’re right. Of course this is all in my head, and its existence something difficult to prove. What I feel however is that I can’t be the only one. To admit is, a failure of sorts, and I’m just going to admit it. Luckily for me, I’ve detected the early symptoms. Now to find my fellow patients.