Yes, there is such a thing as too much information. Information isn’t knowledge, and knowledge isn’t virtue as we learned, or at least some of us did, in the last post. Or maybe some of us already knew it. I think I did — through osmosis perhaps.
The purpose of this post is to underscore the notion that information is valueless in and of itself. It’s just data. What you do with that data is what gives information value by transforming it into knowledge. What you then do with that knowledge may or may not result in virtuous behavior — if there is such a thing, and I’m not certain there is.
What’s prompted this line of reasoning is a Twitter discussion I had with Saad Chaudry related to The Serial Dynasty podcast’s latest broadcast, Ep.18: Neighbor Boy. Let me point out that I’m not picking on Saad — he just happened to prompt this line of reasoning for me. This isn’t directed at him personally, but rather it’s a general message to the Universe. For me, every event is a chance to learn and grow. I’ve committed to a life of Growth ’til the End and Hae Min Lee’s murder is not an exception in this principled endeavor. It’s an event, considering all its myriad implications, that we all can learn from and learn from in a myriad of ways. But before I proceed further in elaborating upon and clarifying my thesis, let me deposit the aforementioned Twitter exchange for illustrative reference.
Considering that, I’m not sure how interviewing Neighbor Boy, who prefers to be referred to as Mr. E now, is information let alone knowledge. In my opinion, he’s a liar like so many we’ve stumbled upon in this case. In effect, Neighbor Boy’s (he’ll always be Neighbor Boy to me) latest testimony is a liar opining about another liar, that other liar being Jay Wilds. How is that helpful in any way in exonerating Adnan and solving Hae Min Lee’s murder? It’s not helpful. It’s too much information. It’s a sideshow distraction that only helps to further obfuscate a case already riddled with enough obfuscation to cloak a continent.
I’m not surprised by Saad’s rebuttal to me. Afterall, we operate in a society that’s increasingly inundated with information. So much information in fact, we can’t possibly process it all. The following article lays it out nicely. It adroitly supports and emphasizes my thesis that too much information can be, and I would say is, a bad thing. Too much information inundates, distracts, overwhelms, baffles and ultimately confuses, demoralizes, paralyzes and incapacitates. We cannot develop, or transform our mental models fast enough to process it all and we’re chasing our tails trying to make sense of it all. The Singularity is upon us. Information flow is outpacing the capacity to manage it and process it. Anomalies will begin to flourish. At first, they’ll be brushed under the carpet as we seek to control our lives and our world using increasingly archaic and unreliable mental models to make sense of it all, but that can only suffice for so long until it becomes obvious that we’ve entered a brave new world where we haven’t a clue and we certainly don’t have control. And yet, even then, we’ll cry for more information to solve our inadequacy — the very thing that led to our inadequacy. Before I evangelize for too long into the lonely night, here’s the Aeon article (link behind the title) that I promised.
by Dougald Hine
On my morning bus into town, every teenager and every grown-up sits there staring into their little infinity machine: a pocket-sized window onto more words than any of us could ever read, more music than we could ever listen to, more pictures of people getting naked than we could ever get off to. Until a few years ago, it was unthinkable, this cornucopia of information. Those of us who were already more or less adults when it arrived wonder at how different it must be to be young now. ‘How can any kid be bored when they have Google?’ I remember hearing someone ask.
The question came back to me recently when I read about a 23-year-old British woman sent to prison for sending rape threats to a feminist campaigner over Twitter. Her explanation for her actions was that she was ‘off her face’ and ‘bored’. It was an ugly case, but not an isolated one. Internet trolling has started to receive scholarly attention – in such places as the Journal of Politeness Research and its counterpart, the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict – and ‘boredom’ is a frequently cited motive for such behaviour.
It is not only among the antisocial creatures who lurk under the bridges of the internet that boredom persists. We might no longer have the excuse of a lack of stimulation, but the vocabulary of tedium is not passing into history: the experience remains familiar to most of us. This leads to a question that goes deep into internet culture and the assumptions with which our infinity machines are packaged: exactly what is it that we are looking for?
‘Information wants to be free’ declared Stewart Brand, 30 years ago now. Cut loose from its original context, this phrase became one of the defining slogans of internet politics. With idealism and dedication, the partisans of the network seek to liberate information from governments and corporations, who of course have their own ideas about the opportunities its collection and control might afford. Yet the anthropomorphism of Brand’s rallying cry points to a stronger conviction that runs through much of this politics: that information is itself a liberating force.
This conviction gets its charge, I suspect, from the role that these technologies played as a refuge for the Californian counterculture of the 1960s. Brand himself embodies the line that connects the two: showing up to meet Ken Kesey out of jail in the opening of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) – ‘a thin blond guy with a blazing disk on his forehead… an Indian bead necktie on bare skin and a white butcher’s coat with medals from the King of Sweden on it’ – then creating the Whole Earth Catalog, the bible of the back-to-the-land movement, or, as Steve Jobs would later call it, ‘Google in paperback form’.
Before there was a web for search engines to index, Brand had co-founded the WELL (the ‘Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link’), a bulletin board launched from the Whole Earth offices in 1985. Its members pushed through the limitations of the available technology to discover something resembling a virtual community. At the core of this group were veterans of the Farm, one of the few hippie communes to outlast the early years of idealism and chaos; in the WELL, these and other paisley-shirted pioneers shared their experiences with the people who would go on to found the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1990 and Wired magazine in 1993.
This line from counterculture to cyberculture is not the only one we can draw through the prehistory of our networked age, nor is it necessarily the most important. But it carried a disproportionate weight in the formation of the culture and politics of the web. When the internet moved out of university basements and into public consciousness in the 1990s, it was people such as Brand, Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired) and John Perry Barlow (founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) who were able to combine the experience of years spent in spaces such as the WELL with the ability to tell strong, simple stories about what this was and why it mattered.
Information took the place of LSD, the magic substance whose consumption could transform the world
The journalist John Markoff, himself an early contributor to the WELL, gave a broader history of how the counterculture shaped personal computing in his book What the Dormouse Said (2005). As any Jefferson Airplane fan can tell you, what the Dormouse said was: ‘Feed your head! Feed your head!’ The internet needed a story that would make sense to those who would never be interested in the TCP/IP protocol, and the counterculture survivors gave it one – the great escapist myth of their era: turn on, tune in, drop out. In this new version of the fable, information took the place of LSD, the magic substance whose consumption could transform the world.
The trouble is that information doesn’t nourish us. Worse, in the end, it turns out to be boring.
A writer friend was asked to join a pub quiz team in the village where he has lived for more than half a century. ‘You know lots of things, Alan,’ said the neighbour who invited him. The neighbour had a point: Alan is the most alarmingly knowledgeable person I know. Still, he declined politely, and was bemused for days. There can be a certain point-scoring pleasure in demonstrating the stockpile of facts one has accumulated, but it is in every other sense a pointless kind of knowledge.
This is more than just intellectual snobbery. Knowledge has a point when we start to find and make connections, to weave stories out of it, stories through which we make sense of the world and our place within it. It is the difference between memorising the bus timetable for a city you will never visit, and using that timetable to explore a city in which you have just arrived. When we follow the connections – when we allow the experience of knowing to take us somewhere, accepting the risk that we will be changed along the way – knowledge can give rise to meaning. And if there is an antidote to boredom, it is not information but meaning.
If boredom has become a sickness in modern societies, this is because the knack of finding meaning is harder to come by.
There is a connection, though, between the two. Information is perhaps the rawest material in the process out of which we arrive at meaning: an undifferentiated stream of sense and nonsense in which we go fishing for facts. But the journey from information to meaning involves more than simply filtering the signal from the noise. It is an alchemical transformation, always surprising. It takes skill, time and effort, practice and patience. No matter how experienced we become, success cannot be guaranteed. In most human societies, there have been specialists in this skill, yet it can never be the monopoly of experts, for it is also a very basic, deeply human activity, essential to our survival. If boredom has become a sickness in modern societies, this is because the knack of finding meaning is harder to come by.
It is only fair to note that the internet is not altogether to blame for this, and that the rise of boredom itself goes back to an earlier technological revolution. The word was invented around the same time as the spinning jenny. As the philosophers Barbara Dalle Pezze and Carlo Salzani put it in their essay ‘The Delicate Monster’ (2009):
Boredom is not an inherent quality of the human condition, but rather it has a history, which began around the 18th century and embraced the whole Western world, and which presents an evolution from the 18th to the 21st century.
For all its boons, the industrial era itself brought about an endemic boredom peculiar to the division of labour, the distancing of production from consumption, and the rationalisation of working activity to maximise output.
When the internet arrived, it seemed to promise a liberation from the boredom of industrial society, a psychedelic jet-spray of information into every otherwise tedious corner of our lives. In fact, at its best, it is something else: a remarkable helper in the search for meaningful connections. But if the deep roots of boredom are in a lack of meaning, rather than a shortage of stimuli, and if there is a subtle, multilayered process by which information can give rise to meaning, then the constant flow of information to which we are becoming habituated cannot deliver on such a promise. At best, it allows us to distract ourselves with the potentially endless deferral of clicking from one link to another. Yet sooner or later we wash up downstream in some far corner of the web, wondering where the time went. The experience of being carried on these currents is quite different to the patient, unpredictable process that leads towards meaning.
The latter requires, among other things, space for reflection – allowing what we have already absorbed to settle, waiting to see what patterns emerge. Find the corners of our lives in which we can unplug, the days on which it is possible to refuse the urgency of the inbox, the activities that will not be rushed. Switch off the infinity machine, not forever, nor because there is anything bad about it, but out of recognition of our own finitude: there is only so much information any of us can bear, and we cannot go fishing in the stream if we are drowning in it. As any survivor of the 1960s counterculture could tell us, it is best to treat magic substances with respect – and to be careful about the dosage.
6 March 2014
So no, I disagree, more information is not better. There is such a thing as too much information, and as a society we’ve reached Peak Information and have surpassed it. We are in uncharted territory and anomalies are starting to fly fast and furious. Some, or most perhaps, may consider this a terrifying notion, but not me. I find it highly exhilarating and intriguing. The more we think, and thought, we know/knew — the less we know and knew despite the abundance of information and maybe because of it.
Saad asks if I listened to The Serial Dynasty podcast. No, I haven’t and I don’t think I will for the reasons I’ve stated above. I’m more interested in solving Hae’s murder at this point, but unfortunately not very many others are. It appears for most of The Followers it’s about the Free Willy aspect of Hae Min Lee’s murder that fascinates them the most and therefore their devotion to Justice for Adnan. Justice for Adnan is only part of it. In order for justice to be complete, there must be Justice for Hae. In fact, if you ask me, Justice for Hae is paramount because in insisting on Justice for Hae, as part of that process if performed honestly and effectively, if Adnan is innocent of Hae’s murder (not just not guilty per The State’s case), then he would be exonerated, but not the other way around, meaning if Adnan is set free and/or exonerated first before investigating Hae’s murder properly, justice doesn’t necessarily come for Hae. It’s a separate initiative when performed in reverse.
And finally, because I’ve been wanting to clear the record about this for a while now, I want to emphasize that this blog and the podcasts associated with it receive no funding whatsoever. I do not solicit or receive donations and I do not have a sponsor. I find the notion of capitalizing monetarily off of Hae’s murder unethical in the least. I had tuned into Bob Ruff’s podcast a while back but when I had to sit there for ten minutes at least, maybe more, and listen to him fawn over Shaun T Fitness, his new sponsor, I shut it off. I can’t stand commercialization period, so I certainly don’t respect it when it’s used to exploit the pain and suffering of all those afflicted by the terrible tragedy of Hae’s murder. Not to mention, but I will because I’m that kind of a prick, without donations and a sponsor, I’m free to express myself without catering to interests that hold me captive. I can say “fuck you” when it needs to be said. Like now. I’m metaphorically saying “fuck you” and I don’t have to worry about some censoring Yahoo Sugar Daddy cutting off the Gravy Train. Nobody puts a lasso on this Mother Fucker — NO ONE.
I’m saddened, but not surprised, by the lack of response I’ve received concerning my admonition about solving Hae’s murder in my last podcast, Cherry’s Jubilee. One person responded via email asking to set up a phone call and when I responded back, I haven’t heard from them since. That’s it. One person. Like I said, it’s not surprising. I expected it. It’s the way of things. I will say this, I don’t expect Undisclosed Podcast to carry that torch or take on that burden even though it claimed at one time that was part of its purpose. It’s clear to me now that Undisclosed Podcast is an effort to free and/or exonerate Adnan — and that’s fine, I understand. Undisclosed Podcast wasn’t sure what it was going to be or what it could be when it first got underway. It’s been a work-in-progress and now its vision and purpose seems more clear and determined. In fact, I don’t think it’s appropriate for Undisclosed Podcast to conduct the investigation of Hae’s murder or to spearhead that effort. It requires a team more independent, objective and impartial. Even though I think the probability of this is extremely low at this point, Adnan, even if he is set free and/or exonerated, is still a person of interest in the investigation and I don’t believe Undisclosed Podcast possesses the proper Independence In Appearance let alone Independence In Fact to objectively serve in that capacity. I say this in response to Rabia Chaudry’s latest blog post, It’s On Now at Split The Moon. Here’s what she said:
Because somethings ARE NOT COMPUTING with people: it is the job of the State of MD to find Hae’s killer, not the job of Adnan’s defense counsel or anyone else. It is also a matter of routine that defendants use the appellate process to challenge their convictions. Some folks think unless the defense team somersaults into the courtroom with flaming proof of another person as the killer (because apparently its not enough to show that Adnan pretty much COULD NOT have killed her), he’s not entitled to a new trial.
That’s not how the law works. He, as any criminal defendant, is entitled to the full appellate process and challenging every bit of shady, shitty, made up crap the State got away with the last time. In the game of life, and the court of law, its only about winning for jerks. For the rest of us, its about doing things right. And doing things right by others.
That’s why I’m working for an actual exoneration for Adnan, not just so he’s freed, but so the State is forced to reopen the investigation into her death. But again, we don’t have to. Adnan doesn’t have to. We could beat them in court, he could come home, and the case would be closed. Then you could blame the police and prosecutors on this, and demand it from them to give Hae justice.
Come on Rabia, do you really believe The State is going to investigate Hae’s death further after Adnan is freed and/or exonerated? I don’t. In fact, I know it won’t regardless of how much pressure is applied by the public which would be minimal at best. If Hae’s murder is to be solved, it will have to be solved by a concerned private citizen initiative that pools its resources. An initiative that sets up a Hae Min Lee Trust that receives donations to fund an effective investigation. No doubt, a similar amount of money that was raised to free and/or exonerate Adnan will be required, but I’m under no illusion that it will come to fruition. You’re right Rabia, you don’t have to, and I don’t want you to investigate Hae’s murder. It wouldn’t be appropriate.
I’ll wrap this up now and leave you with a bit of biting, scathing satire. I’m sorry, I can’t help it. If I tried to contain all these impulses, I’d go insane. They clamor until I express them. Here’s yet another. A couple of Tweets I ran across followed by some commentary. It’s fitting considering the thesis of this blog post and the theme of this blog.
And for those of you, maybe it’s most of you if not all, who contend I have no donations and/or a sponsor because I suck and this blog sucks — you’re right, I do and it does. I’d rather be free and suck than be good and captive like Willem Defoe’s character, Salamo Arouch, fighting ferociously for the entertainment of the Nazis in the excellent movie Triumph of the Spirit. No Nazis for me if I can help it — thank you very much.
I’m sorry, but this is so surreal for me. It’s hard to take standing up. So I’ll sit down and type the following instead. Someone who shall remain anonymous asked me if I had listened to Bob’s NB podcast. I responded as follows:
No, I haven’t heard it and I don’t think I will. I don’t believe in giving an audience to liars. NB lied about the trunk pop so therefore it calls into question anything he says. He’s proven to be an unreliable liar. He can only further obfuscate what is already a confusing and obfuscated case.
But hey, if it helps stud boy Shaun T sell some more six packs, it’s all good. America is the Land of Opportunity afterall thanks to all those Crackers who paved the way for rapine exploitation of anything and everything.
This anonymous individual then asked if I noticed the Shaun T raving too and indicated that The Followers are raving about him and retweeting him as a sponsor when they did no such thing when it was just Audible. I responded as follows because this absurdity begs to be satirized:
Yep, I noticed it. I notice everything, unfortunately. It makes me laugh. For me, it’s more grist for the satire mill. Maybe Undisclosed Podcast can turn into a Reality TV Show where Shaun T transforms Rabia, Susan and Colin into sexy, buff chicks who make the guys drool and the season after that Shaun T can divorce his current husband and marry Adnan and they can adopt a child and name him Kevin.
Yes, that satire is crude, rude, illogical (to some) and not approved for mass consumption — just the way I like it.
Maybe more of you will come forward and help spearhead this investigation into Hae’s murder, but I doubt it for all the reasons I stated above and other reasons to be announced at a later date.
Until the next podcast and/or blog post, remember to lie well and for all the right reasons. Really.