You can’t have too much information. Or can you? Writing in the Guardian, Andrew Orlowski examines the “glut of hazy information, the consequences of which we have barely begun to explore, that the internet has made endlessly available.” He wonders whether the “aggregation of [online] information,” which some see as “synonymous with wisdom,” isn’t actually eroding our ability to think critically. He quotes Will Davies, of the Institute of Public Policy Research, who observes that
we can endlessly delay having to interpret and judge things by stacking more and more bits of data in front of us … That data is a comfort blanket in a way – we all do this. People are becoming addicted to getting more information all the time. You can see it when they get out their BlackBerrys as soon as they’ve stepped off a plane.
Like me, you’ve probably sensed the same thing, in yourself and in others – the way the constant collection of information becomes an easy substitute for trying to achieve any kind of true understanding. It seems a form of laziness as much as anything else, a laziness that the internet both encourages and justifies. The web is “a hall of mirrors” that provides the illusion of thinking, Michael Gorman, the president of the American Library Association, tells Orlowski. “No one would tell you a student using Google today is producing work as good as they were 20 years ago using printed sources. Despite these amazing technical breakthroughs, these technologies haven’t added to human wellbeing.”
A couple of weeks ago, my 16-year-old son said, out of nowhere, “I wish I lived before there were computers.” I think I know what he meant.