Too Much Monkey Business…Err, Information

June 4th, 2007

About three years ago I discovered newsfeeds; you know, those streams of data that allow any curious early adopter to be utterly overwhelmed with information from dozens and sometimes hundreds of websites, every time said websites update their main page.

Every time they update. Especially blogs, which are fine-tailored to funnel as much information as fast as possible.

In theory, this is brilliant. It makes solves the problem of having to remember to check one’s favorite websites (which on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranks just above safety needs). Theoretically, a person could just subscribe to their ten or so favorite sites and be done with it.

In practice, news feeds are addictive – there’s always a new update on some website out there…and waiting for updates becomes unbearable…so you subscribe to more websites. Then you figure, “what the hell, sometimes I need a gossip fix” and next thing you know you’re receiving daily updates on celebrity spottings in Manhattan; then minute-by-minute blows of Steve Jobs’ keynote; then receive no less than three hundred posts as users of Digg fight the site’s moderators to publish AACS decryption codes. All the while, BBC and CNN are updating their feeds with news as it happens, and Boing Boing keeps on churning out wonderful things. None of this is necessary at all – people used to get their news from a six-hour-old newspaper, then supplemented with an evening news show on TV…and yet, my half-hour ride on the train from work, where I have to do without my precious newsfeeds feels unbearable.

Well it did. Nowadays, I never get about 100 posts a day from the feeds I’m subscribed to with Google Reader…and I even feel that’s too much. But this is because I’ve come to terms with my information addiction. Honestly, I still suffer from “too much information” syndrome, only now I instinctively know how to find more and more and more and yet more and once again more information without needing to rely on websites to feed me. It’s the downside of having the talent of being able to efficiently find information – I can’t un-learn it, meaning if you give me an internet connection and a decent web browser (not even decent; I bet I’d be just fine with Lynx) and I’ll occupy myself for many, many hours*.

This comes to the crux of my situation. It no longer has anything to do with newsfeeds. I, meaning we, simply have access to too much information. Too many websites, too much history, too much culture, too many interesting people doing too many interesting things. What happened is that the world population has grown a great deal in the last fifty years, giving us more people making creative and interesting things. Add to this the ridiculously low barrier to entry in making things (think how cheap video cameras are); throw in the low overhead required to share these things (hello…how are you reading this? On a plane? From paper? That’s weird.) and the result is the absolute worst way to test the human mind’s ability to forget the things it sees and hears and experiences.

I’m talking about Google Search, Google Image Search, Google Blog Search, Google Trends, Google News, Google Reader (damnable enabler), Google Earth, Digg, Slashdot, Engadget, Daily Kos, Gawker, Defamer, Perez Hilton, Wikipedia, CNN’s website, BBC’s website, MSNBC’s website, Fox News’ website (sad, but true), The New York Times’ website, The Wall Street Journal’s site (if you can pay for it), YouTube, Last.fm, Pandora, Kottke.org, let’s not forget Boing Boing and MySpace, or Facebook, 43 Folders (ironic, isn’t it?), sweet Post Secret, every website that posts anything about Apple or its products, Apple’s own website…and those are the ones I thought of without any outside help.

Boy, was that cathartic!

The irony in all this, is I’m ranting about information using an invention that started the acceleration of information…a weblog.

Thank you for reading this far and putting up with my gratuitous linking, I think it helps get the point across**; but I have two more: Douglas Adams’ video Hyperland…I’m glad it the web of today isn’t as simple as in the video; and Hobbes’ Internet Timeline, my favorite timeline of the internet.

*Not in that way, mister!
**There is no point.

(Note: the title for this post came about because I tried writing “Too Much Information” when all I could hear was the title of one of my favorite Chuck Berry songs…and then unwittingly typed it.)



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