INFOBESITY

We are becoming overwhelmingly dependent on the Internet. Some say, the Internet helps us to move ahead in life. Some others say, it depends on how much and for what purpose we use the Internet. The Internet is shifting our cognitive functions, from searching for information inside the mind to searching outside the mind. The way calculators have reduced the role of pure computation and simple arithmetic, the Internet is reducing the role of our thought process. Internet has freed us from the burden of commuting to attain literacy, but has also fragmented our thinking process. Information overload is affecting our reflection and introspection. We are forgetting the slow and steady pace of search. Over information is coming in the way of our ability to take risks, think some.  They ask, overburdened with so much real time information, where is the time for introspection and innovation? Should we allow submergence of human intelligence by computational intelligence?

We are confronted with the explosion of ideas, but don’t possess enough brains to cover them, thinks Daniel Dennett. The management of information overload requires enormous self-discipline. One way to deal with the information overflow is to keep ‘alone time’, the time during which one does not want to be connected, but wants to get engaged with the self. One doesn’t like to be left out. One devises his own strategy to filter out unimportant information. One needs to know what to address and what to delegate. One needs to understand the necessity of prioritising and rationing information. As one CEO advises, “You have to guard against the danger of over-eating at an interesting intellectual buffet.” Infovores eat information. When they eat more information than they can digest, they develop infobesity. The major causes of obesity are poor eating habits, both quantitative and qualitative, and reduced physical activity. What matters is not what one eats, but  how one eats it. Similar logic applies for infobesity. If we are turning into informavores, it’s probably because we want to. Infovores are aware that a lot of information is available, but they also know what to pick and what to throw. They know, if one eats smaller portions of information and relishes it, the chances of his developing infobesity are lesser.

Edge (www.edge.org) posed the question: Has the Internet changed the way we think?  Some believe Internet has improved our fitness, and is value free. Some believe that the Internet has reduced our thought process (like calculators have reduced the role of pure computation and simple arithmetic). Some think ‘speed plus mob’ is a scary combination. Some think the Internet gives us things faster but not necessarily the right things. One need not remember facts, as these are readily available at our laptops but at the same time knowledge is becoming more fragile and thinking less contemplative. The likely changes due to the internet include fragmented thinking and shorter attention spans together with a concomitant reduction in reflection, introspection, and in-depth thought. Some see in the internet “the extinction of experience” with the natural world. Whatever one might say, the Internet  is now a large part of our thinking process. “The words I am writing now are far less ‘mine’ than they were before.” If the internet has made us “lazy, stupid, lonely, or crazy,” it has also made us “smarter than we’ve ever been before.” One must have a goal when swimming in the ocean of information. Ernst Poppel has beautifully described his feeling of getting lost in the new horizon: “It is like swimming in an ocean with no visible horizon. Sometimes suddenly, an island surfaces unexpectedly indicating a direction, but before I reach this island, it has disappeared again. This feeling to be at a loss has become much stronger with the internet.”

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