Is information overload killing our ability to think?
Illustration by Justin Gabbard
One of my greatest fears is that my last living thought might be of Friends. Not my friends; that would be lovely. I mean the television show Friends. Of all the things that could come to mind in my final moments—loved ones, nature, great art, or music—I instead recall fake people I never really knew.
A particularly terrifying mystery of consciousness is our powerlessness over what we think and when we think it. How tragic that our last moments would be interrupted by the banality of a mediocre mid-’90s sitcom! But “tragic” isn’t really the right word. “Tragic” would imply I’d only watched a handful of sitcoms in my entire life. Unfortunately, a handful is not even close. Try countless. And that’s just TV. This is the problem: We’ve so saturated our minds with noise that to hope we’ll ferret out the signal in the moments that count is sadly naive.
Clay Shirky has said that the problem isn’t information overload but filter failure. I’m not so sure about that.