Walking around on Indiana University’s campus, I find myself hard pressed to catch a student who isn’t plugged into something. They may have headphones in with music I can hear down the block. They may be texting so vigorously that I am forced to prevent them from walking into oncoming traffic. And those aren’t even the informative functions of technology. Because of the access we have to technology, and the barrage of information it constantly provides, I believe that we are overwhelmed and, in fact, getting dumber and shallower by the day because of it.
Years ago, the Internet was a luxury, something you sat down at a computer to use and waited for while it dialed itself up and accessed the web. Now, though, we are a society driven by smart phones and tablets that bring us an overwhelming amount of information through websites and newsfeeds that are constantly updated. The fact of the matter is that our brains simply can’t process all that information at once, and when we try to do so, we end up leaving ourselves much worse off. As Daniel J. Levitin states in a 2015 article titled “Why the modern world is bad for your brain,” our brains are overworked in ways they have never been previously.
“We’re assaulted with facts, pseudo-facts, jibber-jabber and rumour, all posing as information,” (Levitin) and all vying for our attention. Deciding what is worth knowing and remembering in today’s world can be an exhausting task.
Consider for a moment the average person’s daily computer use. There is likely email checking, Facebook and Twitter status updating, online news article reading and more. Each of those platforms is trying to force more information into our minds, and quite frankly, we aren’t evolved enough to process it all. According to Levitin, multitasking is a “diabolical and powerful illusion” because when we think we are multitasking, we are actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. What happens then is that instead of learning a host of things, we merely scratch the surface of what we should and could be processing and try to fill in the blanks ourselves. Instead of learning more information by sifting through it faster, we are actually costing ourselves memory and accuracy.
Years ago, a person used to be able to simply ignore a phone call or text. They could choose to read the newspaper that was dropped on their front porch and still be considered informed. Today, however, we can’t get away with either of those things. Because our phones have become an extra appendage, ignoring somebody trying to contact us can be viewed as rude or lazy. Getting news from only one source makes us look small-minded and uninformed. Thus, to keep up with the rest of the world, we are forced to stay in constant contact with each other and scour the Internet for all the information on current events we can possibly find. Counter-intuitive though it might seem, these actions are only fulfilling us in the short term, allowing us to feel as though we are accomplishing some task or another (Levitin). In reality, what we are doing is the metaphorical equivalent of trying to move an ocean with a spoon. We simply don’t have the mental tools to process all of what is coming our way. Therefore, there is a lot that we will read that we simply won’t comprehend, or worse, will misinterpret completely.
While we as humans have most definitely become more adept at gathering information quickly, we still have to work harder to process it and decide what must be kept for future reference. This information society has reduced us to people who perk up when a notification appears and who pride themselves on being the first one to know something happened, even if we don’t have all the facts. This kind of societal pressure is detrimental and must be reshaped into something beneficial to people. We need to learn how to take in important information properly, comprehending it and using it for more than just proof to our journalism instructors that we have lifted up a newspaper. Rather than just filling ourselves with facts that pass through our minds like a revolving door, we need to actually become informed in this Information Society.