The Long-term Effect of Too Much Information

DecisionMaking1By Robert Nelson


Can we have too much information?

If the universe of information is all accurate, and useful, then the the answer is obviously no; we can’t have TOO much.

But in the age of digital media projected via the instantaneous & highly portable connectivity that social networking platforms provide, the sheer amount of information is nearly incalculable; not to mention unfiltered and often unvarifiable. And nevermind the “fun coefficient”, but we’ll leave the entertainment value of the content for another discussion.

It seems that deciphering the accurate from the erroneous and the useful from the superfluous is not a uniquely modern problem; albeit one that is currently more pervasive and swift in its ability to evoke cultural change, both good and bad.

Note Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on the issue of what we now call “fake news”.

In 1807 statesman Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter complaining about the misinformation in newspapers6

Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day

Jefferson provocatively suggested the advantages of not reading the newspaper:”

I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

Beyond the obvious requirement of source validity & fact checking, it seems that Jefferson is hinting at something a bit more universal: That some ideas can be seen as truth because they transcend time, culture and politics. We can’t be sure if Jefferson was referring to the transcendent or simply that his words reflected an optimism that the truth would eventually surface.

But whether it be Jung’s archetypes of the Collective Consciousness or the apostle Paul’s view that everyone contains an inner knowledge of the “law”, there is a theme that weaves through the history of human thought which maintains that there is objective truth apart from our own experiential being and which is self-evident if we use our senses and pay attention to how the world operates.

But back to the consequences of too much information; or more accurately, the speed at which unverified stories and unvetted ideas permeate society via agenda-driven media outlets.

When asked by a reporter about being the victim of a “fake news” story, Denzel Washington had this to say:

One of the effects [of too much information] is the need to be first; not even to be true anymore. So what a responsibility you all have to tell the truth, not just to be first…

~Denzel Washington