Are We Lacking Information?
Doing the Web 2.0 Dance, checking up on feeds, following links, keeping up with Twitter…. Scanning, scanning, what are we really looking for?
Back in the old days – as recently as about ten years ago? – information was rather hard to find. We had to ferret it out, spend time with original sources, either books or experiences that trickled information, seeping into us like a slow infusion. The potential of spending days, weeks, even months blindsided by a lack of pertinent information was always a possibility. This has been an evolutionary imperative for us to seek out, and not be satisfied, with whatever we manage to take in.
Now we're in a junk-food environment, where the supernormal haunts us at every turn. We respond in a frenzy unwilling to loose any scrap in the chance it might be the one! Like the concept of supernormal, or today's news from Cern that something's apparently broken the speed-of-light barrier.
A friend recently sent me a link to an academic paper. I was floored by the treasure trove of insights within it. Also by the parallels to my own musings. He suggested I contact the writers. They would be interested in my viewpoint, he advised. Looking into their comment policy, I found that information was welcome, but as I read on I realized that nothing I would add would be. It's just not information.
I'm not in the information business! What a realization! No wonder I have trouble "capitalizing" on what I do! Who knew!
The trouble with the Fire-hose is that it overwhelms attention and floods out any other possibility. We can't attend to its insistence and cultivate any other imperative. Its rationale seems to trump any other, after all what's worse than being ill-informed, mistaken, left behind?
But. Of course none of this chasing after information has changed how we fail to respond to our predicaments. Granted, a helpful tip, that serendipitous scrap of news that comes just at the right moment… These do keep us going. They warn us of dangers. They apprise us of an opportunity we otherwise would have missed. It all keeps us in at least an illusion of contact with others, some kind of contact, that can't be all bad?
Of course it isn't. That's an example of the traps of the supernormal. A laudable and beneficial impulse highjacked by an overly loud sensory input takes us into the realm of obsession and addictive behavior. This doesn't mean the original impulse is always a bad one.
We gather all this information so we can analyze it. That's a form of accounting, where we make lists, and do our due diligence and arrive at conclusions and actionable, well, actions. Once we've analyzed we can plan, then it's just up to us to have the will-power to carry them out and not get thrown off track!
A lot of the information out there this year, if you know where to look, has to do with what's wrong with that strategy. I talk about it here all of the time too. It's a strategy littered with unacknowledged assumptions that turn it into a recipe for disaster cloaked in a mantle worn with such confidence by those on the road to success.
I could outline it all again now, but I'd only be duplicating information you probably already have or could find in a more accessible form somewhere else. I see the attempt as a flirtation with futility. It's also an example of the urge to repeat and disseminate second-hand information, a great mechanism that keeps our echo chambers full and ever expanding, not necessarily with new information, but with re-tellings and re-tellings of re-tellings. We get impatient with this when on the receiving end. It's one of the reasons we develop a low tolerance for anything but a clear headline, a pithy tweet, something we can agree with and pass on efficiently.
"Once he starts using THAT word – efficiency – it's got to be getting into bad territory, He hates that!" Regular readers must be mumbling this about now.
Regular readers. I do have some! They can't be coming here and returning just looking for information? No one would be that masochistic! What is all this about here? Why do I do it? Why does anyone continue to read it?
I spend most of my attention on figuring out where I am. I guess that's a kind of information? Only no one else can give it to me in any form that is readily useable. Having someone else point at me and say, "You're right there!" doesn't really tell me that much, although it is related to that primordial information, "Look out!" The kind of thing that got our attention on information in the first place, at least for those of our ancestors who were still around long enough to pass that appetite along!
Knowing where I am takes something other than information. It's not quite analysis either. In fact analysis removes us from an awareness of where we are as it takes us into rationalizations for what we already believe.
Why do I want to know where I am, more than I want to know any of the things that would get me success, fame, wealth?
I'd answer that it is in an ever-deepening conviction that a lack of that understanding is deadly. That this is the most pressing mortal concern, and the least actively addressed. I see around me a system, as far as the eye can see, going back a hell of a long way, that actively rewards ignoring this fundamental question. I see a trail leading back to it from every unintended consequence, every unforeseeable accident. Every instance builds a conviction that we continue to ignore this question, continue to focus on piling on more information, getting accuracies to ever greater infinitesimals; at great risk.
Of course the lure of the supernormal, like a peep-show of "Gigantic Gazongas!" flashing always in range of our peripheral vision, distracts and overwhelms our judgement with its oversize promise of a "basic" need fulfilled, and then some! Even this tip on supernormal I stumbled upon, and am passing on here, feeds that desire, giving us the kind of partially rewarding feedback that keeps us going back for more.
Unlike with some of my obsessions, considering my love of boats and the water, my lifelong pursuit of boat design; I spend a ridiculously small amount of time on the water. After growing up on a beach, learning to swim the way I learned to walk and not much later, I don't swim anymore much either. In part I question this as some kind of perverse asceticism gone wild. But I continue to come back to an instinct I feel, that I don't want to flood my experience with something that matters to me so much so that I might become desensitized to each moment I do spend on the water. Maybe I'm too much an interpreter, blocked from immersion in direct experience because I am driven to mediate my experiences and pry out their meaning when that very exploration cries out that the way to go is to immerse ourselves in the moment!
Maybe. Maybe the moments I'm most interested in being immersed in are these moments when I'm riding the edge of a wave of creativity expressing something and reaching out for conviviality and dialogue? I don't know.
I can't really ever know. That's a big part of the lesson isn't it? The pursuit of information taken to extremes closes us to the reality that we can never know any more than a statistically meaningless fraction of the infinity of all there is to know.
I return here as an act of practice, as much to find where I am as to pass on whatever that effort might contribute to someone reading it. I work at returning to the same question from different angles. This desire to re-frame and repeat tangled up in a mixture of potential obsession and a rigor for getting it right. Each step may halt, it might wander, it might be infuriatingly obscure or even obtuse in a persistence to avoid the familiar construction, the easy, "Oh yeah! I get it!" That so often is the first sign someone has lost the opportunity to see by the reflected light of an insight and has locked back into the pursuit of the next bit of information.
This is the way we inhabit our predicament. At least that might be true. It never disappears the way a solved problem would, but then again it never bores us like a piece of stale information would.
The next time you are in earshot of a blind person tapping along with a cane close your eyes. I think you might smile at the gift of finding your own way on the echoes of their tapping. You might also smile at the bond that's come up between you, no matter how one-sided it might be, unless you took the trouble to let them know what they've given you, and thanked them.
This might be where compassion, conviviality, creativity, and dialogue come together. This could be a unified theory that wouldn't be challenged by news from Cern. What helps us find out where we are is a gift. Recognizing and accepting that gift requires opening ourselves to compassion. This leads us to the joys of conviviality. Gives us an entrance into creativity and sets the stage for dialogue.
Here is a dynamic whose utility and connection with what is cannot be matched by any dogged hunt after yet more information.