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July 31, 2010
A couple of years ago the British journalist John Naish released a book titled Enough (I don’t think it ever made it in substantial numbers to this side of the Atlantic). He subtitled the book, “Breaking free from the world of more.” He uses the book to encourage people to stop when they have enough—enough stuff, enough food, enough work, enough information. The book is a bit uneven with some parts being much better than others; one part I thought was particularly strong was his discussion about information and the near-ridiculous volume of information we are exposed to today. In part of this chapter he writes about his approach to tackling information overload. I was writing on this very topic earlier in the week and I thought I’d share a short quote from Naish:
It involves fighting—and here’s my own new word—infobesity, by restricting one’s data diet. There are compelling reasons. The glut of information is not only causing stress and confusion; it also makes us do irrational things such as ignore crucial health information. The British Government’s latest survey on our food-buying patterns shows that while we are given more information than ever about healthy eating, our consumption of fresh food has fallen. This is partly because we are too busy getting and spending to enjoy the simple pleasures of cooking. But Catherine Collins, of the British Dietetic Association, says that info-overload is often to blame for this food-choice paradox: “We are so informed that we can’t be bothered.” That’s a fantastic slogan for the twenty-first century. We are so wired to gather information that often we no longer do anything useful with it. Instead of pausing to sift our intake for relevance and quality, the daily diet of prurient, profound, confusing and conflict information gets chucked on to a mental ash-heap of things vaguely comprehended. Then we rush to try to make sense of it all…by getting more.
As I read this, I thought of the Golden Labrador Retriever (i.e. Golden Lab), that ridiculous (but family-friendly) breed of dog that has a far bigger stomach than brain. The Lab, or at least the Labs I’ve known, cannot be trusted around food. They will eat until they are sick, throw up, and eat some more. Indefinitely. Some dogs have more common sense; they will eat for a while and save a portion of their food for another time. Not so the Lab. It will eat, and eat, and eat.
I do wonder if we are this way with information today—we eat and eat and eat, never pausing to digest, rarely showing any sensible moderation.