A few brief thoughts on information environmentalism


Over the past year I have seen my consumption of information slow down. I've gone from daily visits to Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, and LinkedIn to weekly or monthly visits. I found no real reason for the visits. It's not like I was contributing anything meaningful to a conversation, nor was I finding any useful information about friends and family.

At the same time I was uncoupling from social networks, I was also reading several books that I assumed were in opposition to my general outlook, but were worthwhile books that deserved a close read. Two of those books, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age* and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, were dealing with these issues as well. Both are worth reading if you're at all interested in how our culture views it's relationship with the web. But in both books, the authors took time to talk about how they found it hard to turn off the machine and had to impose internet-free or computer-free time at home. When I was reading this it struck me as odd. I understood the parallel of limiting TV consumption, but would we feel the same about book and magazine consumption? And do adults really need these limits? I understand why boundaries must be set for children and teenagers, but adults can't power down devices? Too much of a good thing....

This past weekend I was at the Chihuly exhibit at the MFA with my parents and wife. First impression- "ooh, pretty glass. Lots of pretty glass." Then we started noticing the flashes. People were trying to photograph the glass with their flashes turned on. Then we noticed that people were photographing every single display using their cameras and phones. Almost to the point where they were no longer admiring the pieces and spending their time taking photographs. It felt as if people were there to capture the art but without the experience. By the third room it was apparent no one was "being here now" and the photos were being used to capture the information so that they could process it later (I think my moment came when I noticed people were photographing the Navajo blankets that lined a wall. Blankets that can be found in thousands of homes across the United States (Been out to the Southwest? Have a blanket/ rug? A similar one was probably on the wall). The exhibit reminded me of the concept of information environmentalism, something Carr and Powers alluded to in their book, but never made a strong case for it, other than as a personal responsibility.

So what?

I guess I'm putting these thoughts down here because it's something that we need to keep in mind when writing blog posts and uploading photos and tweets. How much of this is necessary and how much is ephemera? How can we improve the signal to noise ratio? Should we improve the ratio or let more noise in? Who gets to decide and how are we going to store this in any meaningful way? And how will access be provided that cuts through the noise? If we are to take our consumption of information as part of a bigger ecology, are we destroying it with every tweet and new Facebook profile picture? Does it matter all that much? And is all this consumption actually speeding up the "process of dumbening?"

*Okay publishers, I know you can't really control Amazon's pricing on all editions, but the Kindle edition of the book is currently two dollars more than the bargain priced hardcover and almost three dollars more than the paperback. And that's with Amazon's discounts applied to list price.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home