Are We Drowning in Information?

Today I’m linking up with my friends at Soli Deo Gloria. Hope I don’t give anyone a headache!

On August 21 The Dallas Morning News published “The Elusive Big Idea,” a long essay by Neal Gabler of USC, which I found quite intriguing. Mr. Gabler’s thesis is that “we are living in an increasingly post-idea world…” that is, our much vaunted “Age of Information” leaves us well informed but with no time to think about what we know. Ideas, he says, make sense of information, but our current glut of information is not fueling ideas. Instead, “it has become competition for them.”

I don’t agree with all of Mr. Gabler’s views — for one thing, he seems to see faith and rationality as mutually exclusive. In fact, he lumps together “superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy” and dismisses them all as equally inferior. He also pits these processes as enemies against “rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate.” If I understand him accurately, I would disagree with this view because it fails to recognize that many of these processes actually interact with and inform each other. For example, people debate over differing opinions all the time, often using logical argument to support their positions. And science has its own orthodoxy, as do many faiths. Sometimes that orthodoxy may blind even a scientist to evidence, or skew his/her interpretation of it. I would even go so far as to say that every theory begins with an opinion of how best to interpret evidence. And speaking just for myself, my science background gives me great respect for evidence and logical argument, which I try to use to shape my opinions and my faith. (Not that I am without biases, but then, everyone has biases.)

However, I believe Gabler is correct when he points out how short-sighted we have become. “We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value.” In fact, “big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding.” Rare is the person who uses social networking to share or debate theories. Instead, “we get instant 140-character tweets about eating a sandwich or watching a TV show.” I would add that if you do share an idea online, any disagreement is more likely to degenerate into childish name-calling than lead to reasonable debate or discussion. Gabler warns that “The implications of a society that no longer thinks big are enormous.”

The piece made me think about my own consumption of information. What do I do with it? What do I disseminate: trivial factoids? Half-baked opinions? Or do I process information into ideas that help me genuinely comprehend the world around me? And where does humor fit in?

I will keep these things in mind as I consider the information that comes my way. I’m not sure how to snag the important things out of the informational fire hose that seems to run constantly. But I would like to process rather than just know — so that whenever I prepare blog posts or form opinions, they will contain nuggets of real ideas.

By the way, I was going to write about this more than a week ago, when I first read the essay. But I decided I’d better take some time to think about it.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading,

PS: You can read Mr. Gabler’s essay here.

About Jan C. Johnson

Welcome! If you like food, reading, laughing over life's little disasters, and maybe thinking about the bigger things of life, you have come to the right place. Besides blogging, I write humorous fiction, though real life tends to leave fictional humor in the shade. But I'm not a total goofball. No, really. I'm also working on a biography project. I live in North Texas with my husband, Brent. We enjoy bicycling, Mexican food, and traveling to visit our kids and grandkids.
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4 Responses to Are We Drowning in Information?

  1. Debbie Young says:

    I have a difficult time when confronted with a lot of information. I tend to only read things that look like they won’t overwhelm me and do have a “nugget” of information that I can process and use. That is how I write as well. Even if it’s only a small nugget, I try to make sure I have one that might be helpful.


    • Jan says:

      Good idea, filtering what you read for relevance. And you must be doing a good job on the writing end: I always find your posts helpful and/or inspiring. Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Jen says:

    It’s really interesting — the whole article. I honestly don’t know about the big ideas thing — I think there will always be people who will be big idea thinkers, but now their efforts have to be two-fold. One, they have to have the big ideas and put them into action. Two, they have to be heard above the din of all the things that really don’t matter (i.e. eating a sandwich). For me, I cannot store a wealth of information in my head, so when I hear of an idea or history lesson or whatever, I have to find one thing to really think about and apply.


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