Information is Cheap, Attention is Expensive

We live in a world where we have way more information available to us that we could possible process. We are inundated by information options. We have to select from 100’s of channels on TV, tens of thousands of movie from Netflix, countless video games, Facebook and Twitter on our cell phone, millions of youTube videos, billboards on every corner, and the “dieing” media radio, newspapers, and books. Surrounded by a glut of information, be it for communication, learning, or entertainment, our attention is scarce.

The Beginning of Information and Communication

It was not always this way. At the start of civilization information existed in two simple formats. At the start of modern man knowledge was transferred by voice from the experienced. We learned at the pace of voice. We could gain no more knowledge than was available in the mind of the tribesman we lived with. We gained knowledge from our natural surrounding. We learned from observing the physical environment that we lived in. It could be argued that our brains were designed for this ecosystem, not the computer, mobile device and television that dominate our attention today.

Where We Are Today

For better or worse the knowledge gained by our elders has been supplanted for the most part by books, television, and the internet. Knowledge based on our surroundings has been reduced for the most part to rudimentary task such as driving, and leisure activities such as sports. We live in a world with numerous communication options and near inexhaustible entertainment options.

What We Have Gained

We are Never Bored

We are never bored because of lack of entertainment. Entertainment is in our pockets and on demand. We can now view media on our schedule, not the schedule of the networks.

Better Communication

One day recently I emailed a few people, IMed through AIM, posted to twitter, reblogged a Tumblr post, update my status and chatted on Facebook, sent a few texts, posted on a message board, called people on my cell phone, and took a few calls on my office phone. We can now communicate with one or many in ways that have never been easier.

What We Have Lost

While society is not going to look back, it is important to consider that cheap information, media and communication comes at a price.

With choice comes the need to choose

We have all stared at a ten-page menu in a restaurant unable to decide because there are too many options. At times we would prefer to just have a few options, so make the decisions earlier. The glut of information that exist at this time presents us with a dilemma of where should we focus our attention. We feel pulled in many directions at once. We cannot experience everything at once, so we have to make selections. The very act of making that decision makes us question whether we would be happier with one of the other options. An excess of options creates a dichotomy of emotions. At once we are excited by the prospects of watching all the movies in our Netflix queue, but move through it painfully slow because we can never catch up with our email.

Addicted to Stimulations

We are no longer to be satisfied without constant stimulation. In general we are stimulation addicted. We cannot sit on the train on the way home from work; we play games on our iphone or PSP. We do not sit on watch the sunset or listen to the bird chirp, because we still have 5 episodes of Lost to watch. We are less at peace with ourselves as we strive to absorb all of the information available to us. Because information is so plentiful we have allowed it to fill our every moment, so that we miss as little of it as possible.

Communication Overload

Many have reached the point of communication overload. Cell phones mean we can be reach anywhere, and we are now expected to respond to emails, texts or calls all the time.

Going Forward

The goal of this article is not to communicate how to fix these problems, but to merely identify that they exist. In the end technology should improve the quality of life of the individual and society as a whole. Each of us needs to find a way to interact with the technology available in a way that enhances our lives rather than burdens us.

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