Ones and zeroes gush like Grade A Crude not just from our electronics, but out of our ears and pores and split ends. Yet the more information there is, the less informed we seem to feel.
We race to keep up with the news, the news about the news, the feeds, the tweets, the posts, the inbox. But instead of feeling masterful, all-knowing, there's a dream-like fear that however fast we run, we're going to miss that surely-you-knew bullet train, only to be left babbling incoherently on a suddenly-deserted platform.
Information is now the most abundant commodity on earth. These are strange times — not just for us citizens, but for all the corporate citizens that employ us, feed us, and work the engine that makes the world go round. So here are seven home truths to help keep things in perspective.
1. People Crave Certainty
Here you are at a website devoted to the new new thing — chances are you're an early adopter, a fan of Wikinomics. But most people live a less charmed life, where risk isn't attractive and change is often for the worse. Cleveland is the rule, Palo Alto the exception. It's not information that's scary, it's explosions — explosions of information included. I disagree with the Tea Party Movement, but I recognize the fear behind it. Is a return to old brands, even a bit of fundamentalism, really so shocking?
2. "Branded Content" Is a Dangerous Road — Drive Responsibly
Facts have never been more available, but we have a bad habit of consuming them like a product. We shop for information that's convenient — isn't that what Big Media taught us to do? One FOX News poll, for instance, says nearly a fifth of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. Infotainment, edutainment, even theotainment, are just plain slurpier. And now we have "walled gardens" — Internets inside the Internet — countries with corporate borders. Oh dear, there goes the global village.
Real wealth is owning your time.
3. Bet on Humans over Technology
My vote for documentary of the year is Babies. It follows four infants — in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo and San Francisco — through their first year of life. There's no voiceover. It's obvious that informed, urban environments are more of an emotional vacuum than traditional rural ones. The deeper we bite into the apple — the Garden of Eden apple that the computer company is named after — the further from grace we seem to fall.
4. If You Have Nothing to Say, Don't. No, Really
"Information sickness" — an over-exposure to media — was a phrase introduced by novelist Ted Mooney in 1981, before the ARPAnet even became our Internet. Since then Americans have tripled their data consumption. In 2008 alone, we gobbled up roughly the amount of information found in thick paperback novels stacked seven feet high over every inch of the country. Apparently including Alaska. And that was before Twitter.
5. Privacy Is Becoming Pivotal — Take a Stand
Never forget that the Internet never forgets — it's always a school night. Recently the Library of Congress announced it will be archiving all Twitter posts since 2006. Including those 137 characters you would now trade a couple of fingers to unwrite. Two Argentinian authors recently started a campaign to "reinvent forgetting on the Internet," looking for ways to make data disappear.
6. Information Works for You, Not the Other Way Round
Continuous partial attention — CPA — is a coping mechanism. It helps us to multi-task, and may lead to a brain able to process much more. But what about our minds? In a recent interview, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said this. "Innovation is something that comes when you're not under the gun. So it's important that, even if you don't have balance in your life, you have some time for reflection ... The creative parts of one's mind are not on schedule." Hallelujah brother, I thought it was just me.
7. Empower Your Intrapreneurs
The Internet is three-dimensional. There, I said it in two dimensions. Now here it is in three: technology author David Weinberger says everything on the Internet points to something else — it is links, subjective context, that is "the only thing that makes the Internet usable and worthwhile." The fastest-growing sector of the U.S. workforce is people involved in "tacit interactions," making autonomous decisions and negotiating for their firms. They're the "intrapreneurial" booster rocket of big business — rich information is their fuel.
Life is sweet, but short. Time is all we've got, and there are only three things you can do with it. Surrender it to vital functions like eating and sleeping. Sell it as work. And give it to the people and things you choose. Real wealth is owning your time. And ambition for that ownership lifts people out of poverty, creates a middle class, and drives innovation. Information is the currency, and with good information you can eat better, sleep better, seek fulfillment, prosper, pursue your passions and live longer.
One thing's for sure — there's a lot of information ahead. The question is, will it make us any smarter?
[Image at top by FaceMePlease]