By BILL DUNCAN
This past Fourth of July I had visits from my two youngest sons, both professionals and I listened intently as they talked in a language admittedly I did not understand. It was techno talk and at that moment I realized that even though as an editor decades ago, I had ushered in computer typesetting for newspapers that I had been left behind in this new era.
I even recalled making the understatement to a colleague that computer typesetting would never succeed in the newspaper business. I made that statement after an IBM engineer who designed the typesetting program to which I was introduced had used quote marks as a coding device for the new system and when as editors we explained that wouldn’t work, his reply was:
“You have to teach your reporters not to quote anyone.”
That is past history and today we’ve got the lead out of newspapers and this newspaper and others like it, are all produced on computers – only today the software allows us to use quote marks in a proper context. But what really interested me while listening to the tower of babble between my two sons was that the software engineer was telling his sibling how to de-stress by playing a video game called Plants vs Zombies. He claimed it frees your mind as you fight off the Zombies coming to devour your plants. I marveled at his description since my method of de-stressing is a good book and a quiet corner.
Since I find such comfort in the pages of a book, I remembered some years ago reading Sharon Heller’s enlightening book “Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight,” in which she said technology has created today’s hyper-stimulated world where up to 15 percent of adults suffer from some form of sensory defensiveness. “We deal with an amazing internal commotion of competing, disembodied voices. The Center for Disease Control says unequivocally that 80 percent of medical expenditures are stress related.” Heller is a developmental psychologist who has made a lifetime study of people suffering from sensory defensiveness.
In my opinion, it is information overload. I watched as my two sons each dragged out an i-Phone in a case smaller than what a cigarette case looked like in my day and searched for data as they talked. On that tiny instrument, were stored photos, appointment calendars, a complete website and Lord knows what else.
More new information has been produced in the last 30 years than in the past 5,000 years. This overstressed world has too many websites, too many reports, too many bits of information, too many e-mails and too much extraneous data. You need a machete to hack your way through the jungle of communication. A weekday edition of The New York Times, for example, contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in 17th Century England.
“Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of many and producing faster than we can think or give thanks,” G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1902, as a if a prophecy of the coming communication glut of voice mail, e-mail and websites. Google currently indexes 3,307,998,701 WebPages and that number has probably leaped another million since I collected that bit of trivia. It is said the number of WebPages triple every 18 months.
Little wonder someone described the web as an online Savant.
There is a project called “How Much Information” at the University of California Berkeley that studies the amount of information produced each year and released these findings:
“The world’s yearly total of print, film, optical and magnetic content would require roughly 1.5 billion gigabytes of storage. This is the equivalent of 250 megabytes for each man, woman and child on earth. One gigabyte could hold the contents of about ten yards of books on a shelf.”
I like the comment of Juliet Schor, a professor of Sociology at Boston College, who summed up this information tsunami, this way:
“Technology reduces the amount of time it takes to do any one task but also leads to the expansion of tasks that people are expected to do.”
I think I will go read a book.
(Bill Duncan can be reached at email@example.com or by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470.)