I’ve been thinking in the effects that the new way in which we consume information is affecting our understanding of it. This consumption also has consequences in the creation, distribution and consumption of content. In particular, I’ve been looking into the effects of having today tons of pieces of information, the size of each piece getting smaller and smaller. This was not the case not so long ago, when we had less quantity but lengthier and deeper information. I found that it’s not only a matter of reducing the size of the message. It´s also about how our brain, ourselves, react to it and whether we’re going in the right direction. This post explores some of the negatives of having such environment today.
Internet has finally exploded as the global and ubiquitous communication platform. It not only enables humans to consume data -that was internet 1.0- but also facilitates the sharing of even more data by people. It has evolved from being a source of information created by a few and consumed by lots, to a more balanced channel in which lots of us also share things. Thanks to the social networks, that process is today easier than never before, and the effects are quite profound, I believe much more than what we imagine.
Why is that? Why this new platform has so much influence in how we are? In how we behave?
Because the Internet now, much like the invention of writing, the printer or the telephone, is a technology that affects how we hear from other human beings. It affects how we perceive things and how we communicate these things to others, in turn creating another communication flow. It modifies our mental processes, our memory and our thinking. It changes how we socialize with others, which, at the end, is how we have evolved to what we are now. This is even more important as more people get to use it as a creation vehicle and not only as a digital library.
The raise of social networks and social communication platforms is part of the explosion of internet. They are the medium we use now to share. And as such, it affects the message transmitted, the understanding of it we have and the nature of the information itself. How?
* Context is lost. To fully understand a given piece of information, we not only need the facts, but also what surrounds those facts. Where has this happen? At what time? What was the history behind it? What other facts derive or emerge from it? Who created these facts? All this questions provide the necessary layers of understanding around the nucleus of the information. As we share now smaller and smaller bits of information, this is lost and so our comprehension is not complete.
* Infoxication. A term recently coined to express the excessive consumption of information and the related intoxication we can suffer from it. Too much choices, too much data out there and we fall into the irony of not being correctly up to date with what’s really important. We can’t filter it out of the whole tsunami that hits us every minute. Faced with so much stuff, our brain reacts with a “sensory block”. We end up not processing anything.
* Lost of focus and lack of elaborated thoughts. Another consequence of the atomisation of information is the reduced attention it creates in us when we try to digest it. The human brain, by its nature, is prone to dedicate attention to any external stimulus that can happen out there. That’s how we have survived over the years. Now it’s more and more difficult to find a quiet spot where we are able to go through information, think about it and focus for an extended period of time.
There is finally a hidden threat in all this: the fact that all the social media agencies, public relationship companies, advertising companies and even journalists are fully aware of the above and realise that, in order to capture your attention, they need to produce more and more little pieces of information which in turn re-enforces the effect, creating a spiral of noise and misinformation.
Surprised? Think about this: have you been able to read this post from beginning to end without deviating your attention to something else? Have you checked Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIN or your email? Have you received a Whatsapp and looked at it? And this is a post, an article of only few hundred words. The atomisation of information is here and is affecting us without noticing. For now, I leave you with the following two questions: what’s your largest attention span (in minutes)? What you think you can do to improve it?
I promise to follow up on this with another post in which I’ll try to find answers to how we can better adapt to this phenomenon. If included here, it would have been too long and so I’d probably loose you.
For now, please leave your comments below.