Tianshan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan

Taming Compulsion

Let’s assume for a moment, that in the near future we’ve dramatically improved the way in which information is filtered and categorized. So much so, that upon accessing our content streams we’re greeted by only relevant, curated and high quality material —selected by a highly accurate algorithm, which perfectly understands the fine balance of our evolving and dynamic interests, and the impact of current trends. All signal, no noise.

This will do wonders for the value of content, but the rise in relevant material will cast the spotlight on the ever-growing phenomenon of Information Overload. Our response to not being able to keep up —and there’s no doubt that we will not be able to, is increasingly looking like it will take the shape of a more intimate type of augmentation between ourselves and the technologies we’re building.

Some might welcome this. Being able to do things like; offload memories to external constructs and/or have them upload to some central data-store, firing queries off at will that yield instant results directly into our thoughts, and having access on-tap to a civilization wide comprehensive knowledge base, are all awe-inspiring ideas in the least.

Learning as we know it would be completely remodeled, and our need for long term memory and deductive reasoning would be mostly superfluous, while we opt instead to hand these aspects of cognition off to much more efficient constructs.

For most of us a big factor of influence in our lives is happiness, we pursue this relentlessly and oftentimes lose track of where to find it, then wander on till we correct our bearing or trip over happiness by blind luck. Would being part of a civilization that is so intricately augmented with its technology bring more happiness? It might. Life as an exploratory extension of a collective mind, that only requires working memory of us might be quite enjoyable in an elegant benevolent-Borg-like way, where everyone would be contributing their experiences to the collective and simultaneously have instant access to all of its vast knowledge and processing ability.

The truth is we’re not very good at the pursuit of happiness, and it doesn’t help that the inner workings of our compass are agonizingly outdated. Our lizard brains guide us by rewarding certain behavior that once contributed to our likelihood of survival, this guidance —although still useful in certain settings, is completely off where many of our recent developments are concerned. Considering our shoddy track record, how confident can we be that handing aspects of our thinking process off does not prove itself to be a hindrance that we can’t backtrack from?

Our appetite for innovation has done a great deal for advancing our capabilities, our approach in most cases has been to optimistically adopt new technology as soon as it’s shown to add real value, then iterate on it until something revolutionary comes along. This methodology has served us well, but developing technology to assist us —which is all technology thus far, is not the same as developing technology to stand in as better aspects of ourselves.

We could say that we are reliant on technology, but will quite possibly become dependent on it once we begin trading aspects of our thought process off for greater efficiency. With respect to our physiology —that which is not used atrophies and gets decommissioned. The cause for concern then is that once aspects of the organ responsible for our higher cognitive abilities, atrophy, and the substitutes we’ve replaced these aspects with prove to be less than ideal, will we be capable of even understanding the crux of the matter, or be fixed to a less than ideal trajectory of evolution?

The decisions we take are a reflection of the qualities we value; these are the qualities that we nurture and breed. We are now at a stage in our civilization where islands of culture are becoming increasingly scarce, and common culture is developing across the world. The qualities we seem to be focusing on are efficiency, productivity, quicker innovation and impatience. These qualities —as useful as they are for progress, promote tunnel vision and compulsion when used in excess. As said by one of the seven sages of ancient Greece (and I’m certain by many other great thinkers)..

Παν μέτρον άριστον —All things in good measure.

― Κλεόβουλος ὁ ΛίνδιοςCleobulus of Lindos

Information Overload, or Data Asphyxiation, or Time Famine —or any other term used to describe this phenomenon, is rooted in our reaction to compulsion. Whether it’s due to our lizard brain triggering reward circuitry from the experience, or a fight response to fear of not keeping up, our reactions —devoid of introspection, are limiting all the possible ways in which our civilization could evolve.

There is a growing amount of material available on curbing Information Overload, but I think there’s more value in aiming to tame compulsion. Begin with accepting that it is not only impossible to remain on top of it all, but also unnecessary. We did not invent what we have by knowing more, but by understanding what we knew better, and filling in missing knowledge as the need arose.

You do not need to restrict yourself, aim instead to allow your mind time to wander and rediscover the fascinating things it will. Information is everywhere today and easy to access, let the questions that arise from deeper thoughts guide your search, consume content in moderation and afford your mind the time to digest it. Besides leading to a more fulfilled and happier state of mind, it will open your mind up to a universe of possibilities that are impossible to realize while being choked by data.

I believe we’re in desperate need of more people with open minds exploding with possibilities, more people that are fulfilled, and happy. You see, even though I am certain that driven by efficiency we would do a fine job of replacing aspects of our minds, I would much prefer we consider a wider spectrum of known and yet unknown ideas before making this call. These ideas can only be conceived —and expressed in a manner that does them justice, by individuals who have consciously and selectively picked the values that matter to them, and minds that think their own unique thoughts.

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