In the Information Age (the one in which we are living now), it’s really easy to assume that more information is always better. More information means being more informed, which should theoretically make us better citizens, better friends, and ultimately better humans. It should lead to increased knowledge and to having a more coherent picture of reality.
As the amount of accessible information grows every moment, however, I would argue that access to more information has not led to these outcomes. More information, somehow, makes us feel less informed. It also seems to lead to less coherent and cohesive understandings of what the world is like and what it should be like. Neil Postman makes this argument in Technopoly:
Information has become a form of garbage, not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions, but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems. To say it still another way: The milieu in which Technopoly [the cultural state of mind that assumes technology is always positive and of value] flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose (69-70).
In other words, we live in an age where the overarching cultural assumption is that more information leads to progress—scientific progress, human progress, and economic progress. In fact, the opposite has occurred. The glut of information that overwhelms our senses on a day-to-day basis leads us to question whether we know anything at all. And because of that, it leads to a lack of a unified theory about what human beings are and what human beings are meant to be.
In this situation, information becomes its own end, rather than being a means to some other end. Postman again:
To the question, “What problem does the information solve?” the answer is usually “How to generate, store, and distribute more information, more conveniently, at greater speeds than ever before.” This is the elevation of information to a metaphysical status: information as both the means and end of human creativity. In Technopoly, we are driven to fill our lives with the quest to access information. For what purpose or with what limitations, it is not for us to ask (61).
In some ways, Postman’s theory that information seems to act of its own accord in society by growing for its own sake is similar to the way capital acts of its own accord within capitalism. Within capitalism, money always optimizes for the growth of money. Within what Postman calls “technopoly,” information optimizes for its own growth and dissemination.
Without some overarching system in place that allows us to set information or money up as a means to some other end, both of these become devourers of our time, attention, and ultimately our lives.
Chris Baca is a writer interested in the intersection of philosophy, religion, and culture. He received an MA in Bible and Theology from SAGU, and currently resides in south Dallas with his wife and two daughters. Chris blogs regularly at Crumbs of Philosophy.