17.2. An Information Arms Race

Or, consider our suffocation beneath a flood of information we don't know what to do with. We have repeatedly been told that the next advances in technology will ease our burden. More elaborate filters, information rating schemes, personalized software agents ("knowbots") that roam the Net gleaning information precisely targeted to our interests by these devices and their successors we will finally learn to ride the crest of the flood rather than drown in it.

What we forget is that the arms race between the powers of information proliferation and the powers of information management is an endlessly escalating one. The logical finesse with which we manage information is the same logical finesse that generates yet more information and outflanks the tools of management. Software agents are quite as capable of mindlessly flinging off information as of mindlessly collecting it.

Surely there is only one escape from the mindlessness: to realize that the essential contest is not between information management and information inflation, but between the obsession with information (well managed or otherwise) and the habit of quiet reflection. It is not an overload of information so much as a deficit of meaning we suffer from, not a lack of proper filters so much as the loss of mental focus an inadequate power of sustained attention to what is important.

The technical advances of the past decades have not perceptibly improved our position. Quite the opposite: the sheer abundance of these advances requires from us an even more heroic resistance to the temptation of mental scattering. We must work ever harder to prevent the attenuation of the threads of meaning beneath the accumulating weight of undigested information.

Devices of the Soul. Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
ISBN: 0596526806
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 122
Authors: Steve Talbott

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