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T.M.I.

With an information portal for every fingertip, it's difficult to exercise your Right Not to Know.

I’ve encountered a phenomenon that I’ve labeled “computer bounce.”  As I talk with other Baby Boomers, I find that many of us have become obsessed with our recently acquired ability to access all information accrued by all humankind since the earth’s crust cooled.

Yes, I’m talking about the Internet.

The “bounce” I’ve observed is the tendency to put down one’s smartphone to pick up an iPad or to uncrack the laptop…or if you’re a real Luddite, sit down at a desktop, with a separate keyboard and everything.  In other words, we’ve now begun to bounce from one technology portal to another.  Because we can.

Worse, while reflecting upon my recent departure from Corporate Life, it seems that this kind of circular activity is now actually mistaken for productive time.  It seems that as long as we’re “working,” i.e. accessing data (never mind that it might be either Lindsay Lohan’s latest court appearance, Sean Hannity’s latest rant, an eagle spiriting away a Canadian toddler or that amazing talking dog fixated on maple-flavored bacon), we are adding an immense amount of steam to the GDP. This behavior, now also observed in our progeny, seems to limit human interaction to the point at which I’m no longer confident that any of us are able to engage in quiet conversation about meaningful topics.

As an example, just watch any Sunday morning news/interview program.

There is a quote that has been attributed to Albert Einstein:  “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” 

There is actually no record of Einstein saying such a thing. What he did say, when questioned about the atomic bomb in 1945 was:  “It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”

So maybe it’s the same sentiment.

Speaking for myself, I’ve found that I’ve become ensnared in the inertia of Too Much Information.  In a post-corporate lull of Things to Do, I seem to have developed the need to know at any given moment what the weather holds, who has posted on Facebook, whether or not “I’ve Got Mail,” and the latest developments in Syria, Egypt, Mali, China, North and South Korea, Brazil, Australia, Congress, and US 78 East.

To put this into perspective in ridiculous terms, let’s assume there is no Internet.  Imagine, then, how bizarre it would appear for a person to flip channels on the television for hours on end, alternating this channel-surfing with spinning the dial on a radio, checking the cloud patterns outside, consulting the clock…and all while reading a book, a magazine and the instructions for assembling an Ikea bookcase. Productive?  You decide.

This “bounce” could be labeled “technology-induced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” or something like that, to enable the pharmaceutical companies to run commercials for a pill that would reduce it:  “Suffering from an overwhelming need to know?  Ask your doctor about SloBrayn®. SloBrayn® -- for when you just need to stop thinking.”

Not a bad idea, really. Taking time out to actually reflect on events and ideas and moral dilemmas might lead us all to a healthier attitude.  Maybe even bring these reflective thoughts up in quiet conversation with someone else.

Or maybe in a Facebook post or Twitter feed…

Gotta go.

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Barbara Baggerman January 31, 2013 at 07:06 PM
Amen.
FamilyOfFour January 31, 2013 at 10:40 PM
Oh my gosh, I totally just bounced from my phone to my iPad to read this article!
Chris Callahan February 02, 2013 at 03:17 AM
...and I just bounced from my iPhone to my desktop to reply! I think I might need a helmet with all the bouncing!
Bill Palmer February 02, 2013 at 01:09 PM
Well I for one do NOT want to return to the 50's and 60's well before the internet. How is it possible that there is too much information for rational men and women (and children) out there? Just as an example, since Facebook happens to be a target of this critique, I personally have managed to resurrect lost friends and relatives from many years ago....why didn't I keep in touch all that time? Because the only tools were snail mail with no real time response and the very expensive phone service. To be interconnected with people and events can never be a bad thing, there are only bad consumers of these tools and capabilities.
Chris Callahan February 02, 2013 at 06:26 PM
Bill -- thanks for the perspective. Is the internet a time-saver? Absolutely. My point is that it can also be a time waster. My experience suggests that there is a fine line between being interconnected with people via the internet and being consumed by those relationships to the exclusion of other, more immediate and more meaningful opportunities. I agree that the problem is the way one works with the technology; sitting in front of the computer/tablet/smartphone has little advantage over sitting in front of the television. That habit, in my opinion, limits one's ability to thoughtfully comprehend the relationships to people and events that the technology makes possible. My premise is that just because the information is there doesn't mean that we need to know it. To Einstein's supposed point, we've already exceeded the human capacity to comprehend what technology serves to us. Why not take a moment to try to understand, contextualize and evaluate the things we find most important in our individual lives? The rest is just background noise.

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