Information and Opinion Fatigue

Information and Opinion Fatigue

If you are any­thing like me you feel it. We are inun­dat­ed with a seem­ing­ly infinite amount of infor­ma­tion and opin­ion. I suf­fer dai­ly from too much input and too lit­tle out­put. I am a research hound, or at least I was. But now the amount of infor­ma­tion I have at the touch of a fin­ger is almost par­a­lyz­ing. I spend much of my time sift­ing through arti­cles in a hap­haz­ard fash­ion absorbing what I can of them, which is often very lit­tle. If the infor­ma­tion isn’t aca­d­e­mic in nature or relat­ing to the news it is social infor­ma­tion. Scores and scores of social infor­ma­tion fil­tered down by Face­book. Social Media algo­rithms have pinned me for what I am: A Gin swill­ing polit­i­cal har­le­quin, drunk and unheard amongst the clam­or of his dig­i­tal peers. I am bom­bard­ed by infor­ma­tion and in turn I ped­dle it back at the webosphere in an end­less tact­less dance of pseu­do­di­alec­ti­cal “com­mu­ni­ca­tion”. And inevitably, as I sift through my dai­ly dose(s) of infor­ma­tion, I stum­ble upon the gener­ic hum­dru­mi­ty of pub­lic opin­ion. Like a ter­ri­ble acci­dent on the high­way seen on a bus speed­ing by, I can’t help but look in con­cern. I am addict­ed to read­ing that which pains me: the com­ments sec­tion. Between the amount of infor­ma­tion that I pre­tend I can even come close to pro­cess­ing on the dai­ly and those latent opin­ions just wait­ing for me to dis­cov­er I feel incred­i­bly fatigued. An insom­ni­at­ic fatigue that could real­ly only be the result of an addic­tion.

Deprived of sens­es and sleep I stare at this very screen as I do now scour­ing for some­thing inter­est­ing. I attempt to reject Face­book and Google’s attempt to dic­tate my read­ing expe­ri­ence, yet I find myself so often with­in their box­es. “Out of ease,” I will tell my self. Or the sud­den thought of how so-and-so is doing, “I had bet­ter check face­book!” I feel stuck in a tight­en­ing loop, some sort of noose. This free­dom is a noose. For instance, at this moment I have six­teen tiny tabs open on things rang­ing from the New York Times (anoth­er sto­ry on Trump), to a blog arti­cle on infor­ma­tion encryp­tion and anoth­er tab open for all the work emails that I am ignor­ing. I will, at this point, admit that I am much the same way with books. I will often have two or three books on the go at once. But with books I have con­trol. With books the infor­ma­tion feels restrained and wait­ing for me where on the Inter­net it often feels as if it is attack­ing me. Anoth­er ben­e­fit of the book is that the only opin­ions are mine and the authors and whomev­er they might be cit­ing. Strange­ly enough, read­ing a book with all of its con­straints feels like bliss­ful free­dom to me.

I often feel like a town gos­sip with all of the social infor­ma­tion I ingest on a dai­ly basis often to be spewed onward into the unsus­pect­ing ears of my part­ner. It is also a voyeuris­tic and some­times secre­tive thing. A pry­ing vig­i­lance in hope of an omnipresent aware­ness of my friends’ goings on. I sup­pose I am over­ly sen­ti­men­tal. I live far from most of the­se old friends. Yet I wish to stay con­nect­ed and in the know for some rea­son that is like­ly banal. But this effort to stay con­nect­ed is so so tir­ing. Even worse, I don’t have a real clue as to why I do it? But it feels some­thing like an addic­tion. It is like I am a dig­i­tal fit­ness freak seek­ing con­tin­u­al­ly train­ing for a marathon that I will nev­er run. Or am I, poor Sisy­phus and his bold­er? Only my pun­ish­ment is not a rock it is oth­er peo­ple, and all their damned infor­ma­tion. Pun­ish­ment is not oth­er peo­ple, it is what they know, think and say.

I know most peo­ple wouldn’t give a shit about what is going on in my dai­ly life, and like­ly wouldn’t know a thing if I didn’t bom­bard my social media pro­files with pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence of my com­ings and goings. But their you have it again, that fad­ing voice in the Din of social media nar­cis­sists pro­claim­ing “I live!” with every Face­book update, tweet, or Insta­gram pho­to or what­ev­er.

I had lofty hopes for the Inter­net com­ing out of the BBS (Bul­let­in Board Ser­vice) era where hob­by­ists and ama­teurs (now labeled “mak­ers” or some­thing or oth­er for some rea­son) worked as small com­mu­ni­ties cre­at­ing things togeth­er. But now it seems that the Inter­net has become more a space for recy­cling opin­ion, or for defin­ing one’s self through the opin­ions of oth­ers. It has become an overt­ly curat­ed infor­ma­tion super­high­way of adver­tise­ments.

Out of the thou­sands of opin­ions and bits of infor­ma­tion I am exposed to every­day, I would say that a slim per­cent­age of them actu­al­ly mat­ter to me. But there they are. Those bits of info that mat­ter to me are the ones that I can feel change my grey mat­ter in an inte­gral way. Even so, at some point infor­ma­tion becomes sim­u­lacrum. Opin­ion becomes far­ci­cal. The day is near­ing an end and I am sure we are all fatigued.

The root of my con­cern is not the qual­i­ty of infor­ma­tion or opin­ion, but the shear amount of it. The Inter­net is anti-zen. When Zen says “kill the intel­lect,” the Inter­net says “feed the intel­lect.” But with­out still­ness I find it hard to do either. I often want to feed it and then kill it. But for all it is worth, I am liv­ing with the Inter­net out of choice. It is unfor­tu­nate, how­ev­er, with social media, I feel that my choice has become con­strict­ed to a dic­ta­tor­ship of opin­ion. I choose to offend myself dai­ly and to get angry about what I read; there­fore, I must choose to take the brunt of it in stride because it is a choice, I only wish peo­ple had bet­ter things to say and richer things to share on the aver­age.

Whether on social media or found else­where my favorite things to see on the Inter­net are things that peo­ple, espe­cial­ly friends, have decid­ed to cre­ate. I think this is what keeps me com­ing back: when I see some­thing extra­or­di­nary that some­one has cre­at­ed or writ­ten, I want to sup­port them as a mem­ber of their audi­ence. I want to col­lect a mem­o­ry as moment of an achieve­ment! The prob­lem lies in a sort of black hole infor­ma­tion para­dox of the Inter­net. Infor­ma­tion online is not infinite and cer­tain­ly decays. It flows in and out of itself. The Inter­net is a black hole of sorts and I find myself being sucked in and out of it, as infor­ma­tion dis­ap­pears I seem to dis­ap­pear with it, each time find­ing it hard­er to return. A real life lawn­mow­er man. I am too eas­i­ly side­tracked into this habit of col­lect­ing use­less data, and the­se segues into infor­ma­tion and data min­ing take away from my true plea­sure of wit­ness­ing my cre­ative friends and com­mu­ni­ty. Each day end­ing with the cho­sen bom­bard­ment of infor­ma­tion and its result­ing fatigue I ask myself the sim­ple ques­tion of “why?” And I am left fac­ing the vac­u­ous nature of addic­tion in which I am left with no con­crete answers. I am a pro­duct of my times and my times are in part a pro­duct of me.

I am not look­ing for sym­pa­thy or some empa­thet­ic respon­se. I write this as prac­tice self-ther­a­py. I write this as a search for some form of Zen space of silence in this media bom­bard­ing world; or, may­be I write this as an answer to some old koan about whether or not a sound exists if an ear isn’t present to inter­pret it. Only this time it is real­ly koan about whether or not infor­ma­tion exists if we aren’t the ones to see and inter­pret it. I guess I will just keep search­ing until I find out?

What would hap­pen if I took both the red and the blue pill? That must be an option no?