Sunday, September 11, 2011

Maybe I Think Too Much...

The title comes from a Paul Simon song that has always struck a chord with me; while I've always seen the benefit of analysis, rumination, contemplation, and examination, I also think that there are times when one can indeed think too much. And I think that the growth of free information makes it all too difficult to fall into that trap.

I saw a photo recently of Bill Mumy and Jack Kirby; in the background of that photo was a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. I recognized those volumes because they were the same ones found in my high school library. I would have liked to have owned a set of my own, but that was out of the question for us--Brittanica cost far more than my parents could afford to invest in a set of reference books. Instead, we had a 26 volume set of encyclopedia purchased one book per week at a local grocery store as a promotion. They were wonderful books, and I read them and re-read them many times in my childhood; while they lacked the depth and sophistication of the Brittanica volumes, they still offered me a source of information at my fingertips.

Do people even by encyclopedia today? I would have to wonder why. The proliferation of free information on the internet has made paid information a tough sell; why spend hundreds of dollars on books when the same information can be found online at no cost whatsoever (and you don't need a large bookcase to hold the data, either)?

But free information comes with a cost; sometimes we become too accustomed to using it. Even mundane activities change. When I was younger, Susan and I would routinely watch a few minutes of a show to see if we had viewed it previously; now, I merely look up the episode online, scan the summary, and ascertain if it needs viewing or deleting. The spontaneity, the impulsiveness of life is diluted by the constant flow of information. I find myself checking my iPhone when I walk, hitting my RSS feed to see if the world has changed in any significant way in the fifteen minutes I've been walking. News used to be accessible in the morning and evening on television; in five minute intervals every hour on radio; once a day in the newspaper; and once a week in newsmagazines. Now news comes to us in a continual bombardment.

There is all too little blissful ignorance any more. We research everything, because the tools are always there. We investigate a restaurant before trying a meal there; we analyze others' reactions to a book or a film before reading it or viewing it; we sort through dozens of reviews and reactions before buying an appliance, trying a medication, sampling a beverage.

I think there are times when we enjoyed life more when information was more dear, and came in a more controlled flow at a higher price. The problem is, I've always been driven by curiosity, by a desire to know; as much as I see the down side of today's information excess, I'm not particularly willing to go back...

No comments: