Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Danger of Information Overload

The Internet, coupled with the gradually loosening-up of traditional restraints imposed on us over centuries by a ruthless hierarchical social system, is now confronting us with a new subtle but visible danger. Witness the 2008 presidential electoral process in the United States. For the first time our great nation is about to break a once thought unbreakable barrier erected by ossified traditions and a ruthless and corrupted socio-political system. This year’s election by one of our two major political parties of a presidential candidate —an African American or a woman—is proof that we, the people, have finally matured and truly deserve to think of ourselves as “We The People…” in the Land of the Free”.

This liberating process, however, is being undermined by a misguided understanding of the meaning of freedom. And the Internet, that universal forum for free thought, where everyone can publish anything unhampered by editorial corroboration, is unwittingly corrupting the very freedom it was meant to promote.

From the beginning of this year’s electoral campaign, our e-mail boxes are being overwhelmed by forwarded attachments—sent to us by friends and others—of uncorroborated writings by individuals often unknown to us extolling or decrying this or that virtue or vice of the candidates.

The sheer volume of these attachments, plus the wealth of what is freely published and accessed in what former vice president Al Gore called the Information Super Highway, is overwhelming and cluttering our understanding now.

The fact that at the same time we are being bombarded by a 24/7 news coverage that in its ceaseless need to appear up-to-date and newsworthy often resorts to a news coverage overload, dangerously flirting with irresponsible reporting, represents a clear and present danger to our democracy.

Indeed, the information overload to which we are continuously exposed can easily be turned into disinformation, a development we cannot allow to happen.


  1. That's one way of looking at it and we've seen it with some of the disinformation about Obama.

    However, the Internet allows more people to be heard, more voices and of course it is ironic that you bring this up considering your voice can now be heard with this blog.

    We've also seen how sometimes the information on the Internet is more accurate than what we get through traditional news channels that are now for profit, almost entertainment, businesses, controlled by very few people with their own agendas. Remember how Dan Rather retired almost in shame as a result of some letters he claimed to be authentic that turned out to be fake. There was also a study on how accurate Wikipedia was and it turned out to be just as accurate as traditional information resources.

    Overall I think it is a positive development that we all have a means to express ourselves and to be heard!

  2. Well, yes. The Internet allows more people to be heard, but it also allows anonymous, unscrupulous individuals or groups to exploit and deceive the unwary of this world, sometimes with deadly consequences. Dan Rather operated in a moderated medium, and as a reputable, honorable man should have known better. His demise in the traditional electronic media proved the validity of having a modicum of controls in our free-for-all on-line information media. Unfortunately, unlike the traditional media, the Internet lacks these controls and therefore too often is being exploited in ways that would be unacceptable if not illegal in other media.

    The question needs to be asked. Do the many positive aspects of our uncontrolled Internet compensate for all the cyber crimes being perpetrated worldwide, or would a minimum of supervision lead to a safer and therefore more reliable Information Super Highway?

  3. I agree with Anonymous that if it weren’t for the liberating power of the internet your voice would not be heard. Like many inventions since the industrial revolution the internet can be used for good or evil but, to err is human and there will be a percentage of mistakes just like the traditional media have made mistakes over the years. What should concern every honest citizen is the unscrupulous use of this medium to advance their cause using disinformation and outright lies. To fight this, should it be controlled by the government and thereby stymie the honest voice of the people? Should someone in authority determine what is good or bad for us? Is the fight against terrorism a valid reason to curtail our freedoms? Is our slide into irreversible paternalistic government the answer? These questions beg to be answered and the internet is the ideal vehicle because it provides a forum where everyone can express their ideas and beliefs unhindered by socio-political pressures from the almighty government

  4. For a moment let's forget about misinformation. What about information! Now we have Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin (just to name a few) where we inform the world about what we are doing in a given moment, what our interests are, who we are affiliated with, what our ambitions are, etc., etc. Where privacy was once a treasured experience now it appears to be reserved for those accused of being snobbish, shy or not Internet saavy.

    Yes, it provides a forum for every kind of individual whether child predator or teacher, mentally insane or simply mental. The internet leaves traces of where we have been, where we are going, and most importantly how we represent ourselves. Our signature is everywhere!

    Having said this, one needs to tread with care and hold themselves with great accountability if one wants to be perceived by their new audience as credible. To those for whom this is not a concern the internet forum is an amazing tool.

    Have you checked out the President's Facebook? Are you on his "friend" list?