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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TOO MUCH INFOLLUTION INFORMATION POLLUTION REVOLUTION part II




Information pollution (also referred to as "info pollution") is the contamination of information supply with irrelevant, redundant, unsolicited and low-value information.[1] The spread of useless and undesirable information can have a detrimental effect on human activities. It is considered one of the adverse effects of the information revolution.


Cognitive studies have demonstrated that there is only so much information human beings can process before the quality of their decisions begins to deteriorate.

At an society level, in connection with the development of the information society,[12] appeared information pollution, evolving information ecology - associated with information hygiene.[13]

The term infollution or informatization pollution was initially coined by Dr. Paek-Jae Cho, former president & CEO of KTC (Korean Telecommunication Corp.), in a 2002 speech at the International Telecommunications Society (ITS) 14th biennial conference to describe any undesirable side effect brought about by information technology and its applications.

The majority of the modern descriptions of information pollution apply to computer based communication methods, such as e-mail, instant messaging (IM) and RSS feeds. The term acquired particular relevance in 2003 when Jakob Nielsen, a leading web usability expert, published a number of articles discussing the topic

Typical examples of disrupting information pollutants include unsolicited electronic messages (spam) and instant messages, particularly when used in the workplace.[7] Mobile phones (the ring tones and also the actual conversation) can be very distracting in certain environments. Disrupting information pollution is not always technology based. A common example is unwanted publicity in any format.[8] Superfluous messages, for example unnecessary labels on a map, also constitute an unnecessary distraction.[7]
Alternatively, the information supply may be polluted when the quality of the information is reduced. This may be due to the information itself being inaccurate or out of date[6] but it also happens when the information is badly presented. For example, when the messages are unfocused or unclear or when they appear in cluttered, wordy or poorly organised documents that make it difficult for the reader to understand their meaning.[9] This type of information pollution can be addressed in the context of information quality. Another example is in government work. Laws and regulations in many agencies are undergoing rapid changes and revisions. Government workers' handbooks and other sources used for interpreting these laws are often outdated ( sometimes years behind the changes ) which can cause the public to be misinformed, and businesses to be out of compliance with regulatory laws.
Information pollution can exist without technology, but the technological advances of the 20th century and, in particular, the internet have played a key role in the increase of information pollution. Blogssocial networkspersonal websites and mobile technology all contribute to increased “noise” levels. 
According to Technorati, the number of blogs doubles about every 6 months with a total of 35.3 million blogs as of April 2006.[5]
Some technologies are seen as especially intrusive (or polluting), for example instant messaging.[7] Sometimes, the level of pollution caused depends on the environment in which the tool is being used. For example e-mail is likely to cause more information pollution when used in a corporate environment than in a private setting.[9] Mobile phones are likely to be particularly disruptive when used in a confined space like a train carriage.
At a personal level, information pollution will affect the capacity of the individual to evaluate options and find adequate solutions. In the most extreme case it can lead to information overload and this in turn to anxiety, decision paralysis and stress.[9] There also seem to be some negative effects on the learning process.[10]

The excess of information is commonly known as information overload and it can lead to decision paralysis, where the person is unable to make a judgment as they cannot see what is relevant anymore. 

Some authors argue that information pollution and information overload can cause loss of perspective and moral values.[11] This argument has been used to explain the indifferent behaviour that modern society shows towards certain topics such as scientific discoveries, health warnings or politics.[1] Because of the low quality and large quantity of the information received, people are becoming less sensitive to headlines and more cynical towards new messages. 

Information Pollution - Wikipedia

“In un mondo di informazioni infinite il bisogno di soggetti autorevoli che selezionino, rielaborino ed aggreghino contenuti è sempre più pressante. La capacità di farlo concretamente (…) è la sfida che si pone per la creazione di valore aggiunto e del relativo riconoscimento /ritorno economico in ambito editoriale”.

Lo osserva Pier Luca Santoro sul Giornalaio, in riferimento a uno studio statunitense pubblicato su Science Magazine (e segnalato dal Telegraph), secondo cui ”allo stato attuale riceviamo una quantità giornaliera di informazioni pari a 174 quotidiani e ciascuno di noi mediamente produce, in termini di comunicazione ed informazione, l’equivalente di 6 giornali al giorno”.
Sono dinamiche ottimamente sintetizzate dal grafico pubblicato dal Washington Post che ne documenta mezzi e dimensioni.
In queste condizioni la vera sfida è su come attrarre a sè, al proprio messaggio, alla propria comunicazione ed al proprio mezzo  l’attenzione dell’ utenza, come suggerisce Steve Rubel quando parla di “attentionomics”, riferendosi esattamente alle attenzioni ed alle modalità da utilizzare nell’era del decadimento dell’attenzione.

INFORMATION EXPLOSION

In “Against transparency”, pubblicato nel 2009 nella rivista liberal The new republicLawrence Lessig  fa notare che la pubblicazione di una marea di dati non produce un immediato effetto di trasparenza, perchè non tutti i dati soddisfano i requisiti di base che li rendono informazione utilizzabile.

Infatti il modo in cui l’informazione viene utilizzata dipende dal suo essere incorporata in una catena complessa di comprensione, azione e reazione. Il modo in cui l’informazione entra in questa complessa catena (in cui la comparabilità dei dati deve essere possibile, ad esempio), ci dice se e come la trasparenza funziona o meno. Se i dati non sono interpretabili, cioè non sono contestualizzati, ogni loro lettura diventa possibile. Ad esempio, è bene che vengano resi pubblici tutti i dati relativi ai finanziamenti ottenuti dai membri del Congresso, ma non sempre questi dati sono di per se’ leggibili, o provano aspetti deteriori. Meglio è piuttosto definire che ogni candidato possa raccogliere tutto il denaro che vuole da chiunque, ma con un limite di 100 dollari per ogni donatore. La trasparenza è ovviamente sempre un bene, dice Lessig, ma può avere conseguenze negative quando serve a certificare alle persone quello che già sanno.


In “The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy: The Case of WikiLeaks”, pubblicato il 20 dicembre 2010 nella rivista The Atlantic“. Jaron Lanier, informatico, artista visuale, pioniere visionario -negli anni 80- della cosiddetta virtual reality, autore nel 2010 di “You are not a gadget. A manifesto“, un pamphlet controverso molto critico verso i social network e l’evoluzione “di massa” del web contemporaneo (v. traduzione italiana), critica l’ideologia secondo la quale l’informazione in quantità sufficientemente ampia diventa automaticamente verità. L’autore si riferisce alla tesi sostenuta da Chris Anderson nella rivista Wired nel 2008 (**) secondo la quale la massiva quantità di dati liberamente presenti in internet rende obsoleto il metodo scientifico deduttivo. Per Lanier aggiungere più informazione in internet non rende automaticamente il mondo migliore e le persone più libere. L’informazione infatti, anche quando è corretta, non è un oggetto astratto autonomo e decontestualizzato ma, rilasciato in grandezze oceaniche può confondere altrettanto che chiarificare e dare potere. In altre parole, il problema non è se la segretezza sia buona o cattiva (per Lanier peraltro non è del tutto negativa, perchè ritiene che un mondo senza segreti sia un mondo senza fiducia, un mondo cioè fatto per macchine) ma che un flusso smisurato di dati che non si sa come contestualizzare è inutile.

Per Lanier il pensiero che esprime la nerd supremacy consiste nel prendere in considerazione il mero aspetto quantitativo dell’informazione, senza attribuire alcun significato alle circostanze ed alle differenti prospettive.

Più l’informazione è massiva e disaggregata più avviene che altri la reinterpreteranno per noi in modo banale (i wild parties) se non abbiamo – o non ci sono – gli strumenti per venirne a capo.

INFORMATION EXPLOSION

Un articolo molto citato intitolato “Is Google Making us Stupid?” di Nicholas Carr è diventato un libro: “The Shallows: What Internet is doing to Our Brains”. Carr parte dalla struttura stessa del cervello umano, sostenendo che la stimolazione continua che subiamo da Internet ha effetti negativi sulla nostra capacità di concentrarci, ricordare, ragionare, e persino socializzare.

Il libro comincia con un’immagine molto efficace: lo scrittore paragona se stesso a HAL 9000, il computer impazzito di 2001 Odissea nello Spazio, nel momento in cui viene disattivato dall’unico astronauta umano superstite. “Negli ultimi anni – così si legge nella prima pagina del libro – è aumentata in me la fastidiosa sensazione che qualcosa, o qualcuno, stia armeggiando con il mio cervello, rimappando i circuiti neurali e riprogrammando la memoria”.

Google, sostiene Carr, è una parte importante di questo problema. “Ogni nostro click su Internet costituisce un’interruzione della nostra concentrazione, della nostra attenzione, ed è nell’interesse economico di Google che noi facciamo più click possibile: si può dire che Google è letteralmente nel business della distrazione”.

Carr riporta molte prove scientifiche ricavate da lavori sperimentali recenti e meno recenti per dimostrare che l’uso delle tecnologie digitali non sta cambiando in noi solo il modo di comportarci, ma anche il modo di pensare e di ragionare. Un esempio è il lavoro di Patricia Greenfield, studiosa di psicologia dello sviluppo alla UCLA. Ogni medium, spiega la Greenfield, sviluppa alcuni skill cognitivi a spese di altri, e il nostro uso crescente di media su schermo sta rafforzando l’intelligenza e la memoria visiva, che aumentano la capacità di fare compiti che richiedono di tenere traccia di molti stimoli visivi contemporanei, come per esempio il controllo del traffico aereo. “Ma questo si accompagna a un calo di altri fondamentali processi cognitivi di alto livello: vocabolario astratto, consapevolezza, riflessione, risoluzione induttiva dei problemi, pensiero critico e immaginazione”.

In risposta alla tesi di Carr, Jonah Lerner, della Book Review del New York Times, in un articolo ha dato voce ad un team di esperti della UCLA secondo i quali le ricerche su Google portano ad un aumento dell’attività del cervello rispetto alla lettura di un testo scritto su un libro. Lehrer, che collabora anche con Wired, prosegue l’articolo scrivendo tra l’altro: “L’area del cervello attiva in questo caso è proprio quella che sovrintende alcune attività, come l’attenzione selettiva o l’analisi volontaria, che Carr sostiene siano svanite per colpa di internet. Google in altre parole ci aiuta a esercitare i ‘muscoli’ del cervello che lo rendono più brillante”.

Carr invece sostiene che la mente umana è per sua natura plastica, cioè viene modificata dalle cose che fa. “Se noi siamo costantemente distratti e interrotti, però, come succede quando siamo online, il nostro cervello non è in grado di ‘forgiare’ con gli stessi tempi le forti connessioni neurali che danno profondità e unicità alla nostra attività mentale”. “Diventiamo così soltanto delle unità di elaborazione dei segnali, con pezzi di informazioni scollegati che entrano nella memoria di breve termine, e poi si perdono praticamente subito”.

I link ipertestuali sono considerati comunemente un grande passo avanti per la comunicazione e la conoscenza, visto che aiutano a tornare con un solo click su informazioni che in un testo su carta il lettore deve essere capace di ricordare ‘da sé’. Carr  nel libro si cita un esperimento di Erping Zhu, docente all’Università del Michigan, su vari gruppi di persone che hanno letto tutti lo stesso articolo online, ma con un numero diverso di link, secondo il quale la comprensione del testo diminuisce in funzione proprio del numero di link. “I lettori – dice Zhu – sono costretti a dedicare sempre più attenzione a valutare i link e a decidere per ciascuno se aprirlo o no”.

E poi c’è l’inquietante tesi per cui le comunicazioni virtuali ridurrebbero la capacità di socializzare. Secondo ricercatori sempre dell’Università del Michigan, gli studenti universitari oggi hanno una capacità di empatia di ben il 40% inferiore rispetto a quanto risultava in test analoghi sui loro coetanei di 20-30 anni fa. “Il calo più grande – dice il ricercatore Sara Konrad – l’abbiamo registrato a partire dal 2000, proprio quando le comunicazioni online e il social networking hanno cominciato a decollare: pensiamo che ci sia una possibile correlazione, perché è noto che l’empatia viene attivata quando si può vedere un’altra persona, e quindi percepire direttamente le sue tacite richieste di aiuto”.




Since Alvin Toffler popularized the term “Information overload” in his bestselling 1970 book Future Shock, it has become ubiquitous in modern society. The advent of social media and online social networking has led to a dramatic increase in the amount of information a user is exposed togreatly increasing the chances of the user experiencing an information overload. Surveys show that two thirds of Twitter users have felt that they receive too many posts, and over half of Twitter users have felt the need for a tool to filter out the irrelevant posts.

Several insights not only reveal the extent to which users in social media are overloaded with information, but also help us in understanding how information overload influences users’ decisions to forward and disseminate information to other users.
There is just too much information to process at any given time. As the pace of news has accelerated, so has the rate at which people consume news. News feeds filter out the noise, consolidating information the world considers important. Yet, according to a Pew poll, not a single news audience is well-informed about current events.
Feeds do not prevent information overflow; in many cases, they exacerbate it. We need new paradigms of consuming and discussing the news, not because we need to understand everything that’s going on, but because accepting that we can’t comprehend everything allows us to focus on what we do know.
Reddit is the closest I’ve seen to producing quality discussion online. Its algorithm assigns a score to every post. A post’s score prioritizes whatever has the most “upvotes” and the fewest “downvotes.” That simple notion produces curated, timely and meaningful information that, coupled with a strong commenting system, creates a wealth of discussion.
However, the algorithm also decreases a post’s score exponentially as time passes, meaning that no post can remain at the top of the Reddit news feed for more than a couple of days. This is a great algorithm for the news, as it directly tracks what people consider interesting in the moment. But it fails to preserve information long enough for reflection.
“Redditors” commonly complain about “karma whores” who game Reddit’s system to fill up the front page with uninteresting drivel. Ironically, people often “repost” old content on Reddit. Despite critics who complain that they’ve already seen those posts before, reposts nonetheless always find themselves at the top of the feed, reflecting people’s desires to return to good content.
Some services are approaching the concept of time and how it impacts communication in interesting ways. Snapchat embraces the ephemerality of information, destroying messages mere seconds after they’ve been read. On the other hand Medium aims to display long-form text in deliberate and compelling ways, incentivizing quality of writing and thought instead of the time it takes for a journalist to react to an event.
This is not to say persistent information doesn’t exist on the web. Online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, journal databases like JStor and Lexis Nexis, and the WayBack Machine serve important roles in data archiving. And search engines like Google allow people to not only view the latest information but to search for information on a topical, rather than chronological basis. Yet none of these are social in nature; they serve as research tools, not as forums for discussion.
Understanding and working with the ephemerality of news has real consequences. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is still corroding beaches in Louisiana, but I haven’t even heard it mentioned in months. And Edward Snowden, in an attempt to overcome the ephemerality of news in the national consciousness, is leaking sensitive NSA information over time to remain “news.” The fact he needed to do what he did to spark a national discussion represents a fundamental flaw in the way information flows through modern society. It threatens the maintenance of justice and a working democracy.

Information Overload and Social Media November 15, 2013

Misinformation could occur as a mistake. Inaccuracy in reporting or analysis of issues could be categorized as misinformation. Disinformation, on the other hand, is a deliberate effort to mislead the audience for reasons ranging from pecuniary to patriotic. Clearly, Russian news organizations are engaged in disinformation because they believe they are defending the Russian state. During the US led invasion of Iraq, some journalists embedded with the military engaged in propaganda activities more for the love of their country than their profession. Instead of intense focus on the elusive weapons of mass destructionthe media unwittingly became a weapon of mass deception.

However, when POLITICO labels conservative radio talk show icon, Rush Limburgh, Sean Hannity of FOX News, Glen Beck of Blaze TV, and radio talk show host, Mark Levin as The Tea Party Radio Network it takes the unethical practice disinformation to a whole new level. According to POLITICO, these media personalities earn millions of dollars from conservative groups to advocate purely partisan agenda with little or no effort to balance their reporting and analysis of issues and events. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former United States Senator from New York is famous for saying that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts”. 

While there is no agreement on what truth is and, therefore, what information is, it is understandable why most news media organizations around the world are inundated with so much facts and fiction or “faction” (a combination of facts and fiction). The ideologically-driven news presentations of Fox News and MSNBC provide concrete examples of news organizations that continue to mix information, misinformation and disinformation. The networks mix truths, half-truths, and outright falsehood in the reporting and presentation of news and analysis.

With the growing influence of social media in generating content for traditional news organizations, the incidence of misinformation and disinformation is likely to continue. Social media opens the door for more spin in the news cycle because sloppy news organizations will make little efforts to validate information sourced from personal Facebook or twitter accounts of news makers.

In a recent article “who cares if it’s true?”, Marc Fisher remarked that “rare is the news organization that doesn’t occasionally jump on Twitter with half-baked facts, and rarer still is the one that refuses to gin up content about the day’s major trending topics”. Sadly, as Fisher pointed out the imperative for speed in the journalism of tweets has triumphed over traditional ways of completeness, verification, and authority.

Whereas digital journalism may offer unique opportunities for news professionals in terms of speed and connection with varied interests of the audience, it can also aid reporters and especially opinionated journalists to either focus more on the truth or spin the truth depending on their audience.

We may live in an information age but we are increasingly being confronted with loss of knowledge. 

Information, misinformation, and disinformation in the digital age April 18, 2014

Twitter is a vast confusion of vows, wishes, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, complaints, grievances” (James Gleick)

The internet and smart phones are here to stay. They blend smoothly into our crisis-stricken neoliberal age, which is characterized by economic stagnation, populist anxieties, and media spectacles

The question no longer concerns the potential or the social impact of “new media,” but how to cope with them. 

In calling this “Foucauldian,” we do not refer to the Foucault of surveillance and punishment, but rather to the later Foucault, the one who wrote about the ethical care of the self. How do we practice the “art of living” with so much going on simultaneously? 

A few years ago, blog research already invoked Foucault’s genealogy of confession when analyzing Web 2.0’s user-generated content as a self-promotion machine. Recently, attention has shifted towards the aesthetics of mental and physical sanity. Can we speak of a “virtue of networking” that guides us in what to say and when to shut up, what to save and when to join, when to switch off and where to engage? How can everyone’s life become a work of art in this age of standardized commodities and services?

Most artistic, activist, and academic work portrays social media as a technology of domination. Whereas the Unlike Us network (in which I am deeply involved) is engaged in the struggle for internet privacy and the building of software alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, the authors I will discuss here explore the possibility of altering our lifestyles.1 

The data streams may rain down on us, but we still have the freedom to decide how best to respond to this meteorological given. We can remain inside and focus on the shape of the umbrella, or we can take a walk outside and get wet. The sovereign attitude of ignoring the constant stimuli of our techno-saturated everyday lives is not available to everyone. Distraction is a useful holdover from our hunter-gatherer past, when it helped us focus on dangers that could approach from all sides. As such, it is inscribed deep in our human system. But could it also be a gift that helps focus on multiple tasks simultaneously?

The question on the table is—following Foucault—how to minimize domination and shape new technologies of the self. Why has the internet industry bred its own monsters of centralization and control (Google, Facebook, Amazon) while promising the opposite? What bothers us is our own survival. Which techniques are effective in reducing the social noise and permanent data floods that scream for attention? What kind of online platforms facilitate lasting forms of organization? We’re not merely talking here about filters that delete spam and “kill” your ex. As the state of internet discourse shows, it is all about training and repetition (as Aristotle already emphasized). There is no ultimate solution. We will need to constantly train ourselves to focus, while remaining open to new currents that question the very foundations of our direction. This is not merely a question of distributing our concentration. When do we welcome the Other, and when should it be jammed? When do we stop searching and start making? There are times when our real-time communication weaponry should be fired up for mobilization and temporary spectre dominance, until the evening sets in and it is time to chill out and open other doors of perception. But when do these times ever arrive?

We know by now that publicly criticizing the Facebooks of the world is not enough. There is a hope that boredom will prevail amongst youngsters, with users moving on, forgetting current social media platforms altogether within weeks of their final logoff (as happened to Bibo, Hyves, StudiVZ, Orkut, and MySpace). It is not cool to be on the same platform as your parents and teachers. The assumption is that the heroic gesture of the few who quit will eventually be followed by a silent exodus of the multitudes. While this may be inevitable in the long run, the constant migration from one service to the next does only increases the collective feeling of restlessness. According to Belgian pop psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter, author of Borderline Times, Western citizens are struggling with a chronic feeling of emptiness. Intense social media use thus becomes part of a larger societal malaise, connecting a variety of issues from the echo chamber effect to ADHD and globalization. Instead of reading social media as a zeitgeist symptom, I approach the Internet Question here as an interplay between cultures of use and the technical premises of these systems.
There is a need to design daily rituals of sovereignty from the network. If we do this, we may no longer get lost in browsing, surfing, and searching, but when the techno-social routines become meaningless and there is nothing left to report, there is a similar danger of “rienisme.” That’s the moment when we need to come up with passionate forms of disengagement from the virtual world. The question is: How to lose interest into something vital? The issue here is different from the late twentieth century dialectic between remembering and forgetting. There is nothing to remember in Facebook—nothing but accidents. In the end, it is merely a traffic flow. In such a cybernetic environment, history becomes a question of managing eventless events. Because of its “tyranny of informality,” social media are too fluid, secondary, and unfinished to be properly stored, and thus to be remembered. As a consequence, they can also not be forgotten. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, may be right that all digital information can and will be stored. However, the architecture of today’s social media is developing in the opposite direction. As temporary reference systems, hard to access with search engines, the streaming databases are caught in the Eternal Now of the Self.
Social Wisdom, anno 2013: “You can’t get a house mortgage based on your Facebook reputation” (Jaron Lanier)—Ignore Requests—What I often do at 3 a.m., exhausted, yet unable to sleep, I sometimes browse on my twitter, reading banal nonsense to further raise my ire for the human race and listen to Tom Waits to restore my faith in humanity” (Mickey MacDonagh)—Government of Temper—“I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls” (Michel Foucault)—“Bullshit is the new wisdom” (@ProfJeffJarvis)—“I know how it ends: one day I will be declared ‘web-hostile’ and liquidated. God, why is so much Internet theorizing so awful?” (Evgeny Morozov)—Cataclysmic Communications, Inc.—“Man ist zwar kreativ, aber das heißt noch lange nicht, dass man etwas schafft” (Twitter)—Critique of the Enhancements“Facebook to Tell Users They Are Being Tracked” (New York Times)—“My data is bigger than your data” (Ian Bogost)—“Forums are the dark matter of the web, the B-movies of the Internet. But they matter” (Jeff Atwood)—The necessary “haven’t we done this seventeen times already?” thread—“Since the world is evolving towards a frenzied state of affairs, we have to take a frenzied view of it” (Jean Baudrillard).
If we limit our scope to the internet debate, we can see that the New Age tendency that dominated the roaring 1990s has slowly but steadily lost supremacy. The holistic body and mind approach has been overruled by waves of conflict in society. The New Age faction shies away from negative critique, in particular of corporate capitalism. So Google still can’t be evil. Suspicion about the business model of internet start-ups will not and cannot arise. We use technology, they say, in order to “thrive.” In this positivist view, our will is strong enough to “bend” the machines in such a way that they will eventually start working for us—and not the other way around. If we as conscious citizen-consumers flock together, the business community will follow suit. There is no Facebook conspiracy (for instance their collaboration with the CIA) as we are Facebook. We are its employees, investors, first adoptors, app developers, social media marketers—in short, propagandists of a cause we do not understandIt is the technology that is disruptive, not those who complain about it. Those who unwittingly support the malignant social media cause which they naively believe to be a force for good are kept busy thinking they have signed up for a self-improvement course. The user is too busy “thriving” with the constant streams of tweets, status updates, pings, and emails, until it is time for the next gadget.
Is there a way out of the self-help trap that we have set up for ourselves? Why should we think of our lives as something that we need to manage in the first place? Take The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption (2012) by California IT professional Clay A. Johnson. The book is about information obesity and how to recognize its symptoms. Johnson discusses the ingredients of a “healthy” information diet and shows how we can we develop a data literacy that helps us be selective about the information we access. Information obesity arises, he says, when consensus in society over what is truth and what is not diminishes, when any odd piece of information can pass as vital scientific knowledge. For Johnson, the parallels between food and information consumption are all too real and go beyond metaphorical comparisons. There’s no such thing as information overload, he writes. It’s all a matter of conscious consumption.
We can read as many facts as we like, but if we try to add them up, they refuse to become a system. We struggle to keep track of all the information that approaches us, making it hard for most info bits to be properly digested. This is the passive indifference that Jean Baudrillard celebrated during his lifetime, and which has now become the cultural norm. The result is “epistemic closure.” When we are constantly exposed to real-time interactive media, we develop attention fatigue and a poor sense of time. (Johnson says that his overconsumption of information impaired his short-term memory.) The info-vegan way out would be to work on the will power—an executive function that can be trained—with the goal of increasing one’s attention span. To start with you, can install RescueTime on your desktop, a program that tracks what you pay attention to and sends you a weekly productivity score.
As Peter Sloterdijk already noticed in his You Must Change Your Life (2009), training is key. The “anthropotechnic approach,” as Sloterdijk calls it, is different from the rational IT world of engineers in that in it is cyclical, not linear. It is not about concepts and debugging. Instead, it is about workouts. Self-improvement will have to come from inside, in the gym. If we want to survive as individuals while maintaining a relationship of sorts with (potentially addictive) gadgets and online platforms, we will have to get into fitness mode—and stay there. In extreme cases, visiting a Social Media Anonymous group might be helpful, but what average users need is merely a minor trigger to instigate the process of forgetting the gadget world.
Some may view the idea of improvement through repetition as conservative and anti-innovative. In an environment where paradigm shifts happen overnight, planned obsolescence—not durability—is the rule. But Sloterdijk’s emphasis on exercises and repetition, combined with Richard Sennett’s argument (in The Craftman [2009]) in favor of skills, help us to focus on tools (such as the diary) that we can use to set goals in the morning and reflect in the evening on the improvements that we made during the day. However, the disruptive nature of real-time news and social media needs to find a place in this model. In the meantime, Sloterdijk remains ambivalent about the use of information technology. It is clearly not on his mind. In his recently published dairy covering the years 2008–2011 (called Zeilen und Tage and running to 637 pages), I counted precisely one entry that deals explicitly with the internet. In this short entry, he describes the internet as a universal bazaar and Hype Park Gemüsekiste. The same could be said of Slavoj Zizek, who admits that he is not the world’s hippest philosopher.2 Even though both use laptops and internet intensely, information technology has not (yet?) been an object of inquiry in their work.
Yet, there are public figures who do speak out. Take Vivienne Westwood, whose manifesto Active Resistance to Propaganda is a call to arms against information overload.3 She says we need to defend ourselves against the “abundance of everything,” of sound, images, and opinion, the non-stop distractions that keep us away from the important things in life, namely introspection and reflection. Westwood targets pathological consumption in particular. Quit updating, “get a life, artlovers unite.” However, what we need to overcome is not technology as such, but specific time spent consuming popular applications. Unlike knowledge, which we obtain or run into and then store, interpret, spread, and remember, our attitude towards how to deal with info overload and multitasking needs to be worked on constantly, otherwise we lose our “conditioning” and fall back into previous modes of panic and indifference. Dealing with data excess requires a 24/7 state of “mindfulness,” as it is called in New Age circles.
Whereas Clay Johnson is focused on the polarized world of the political news industry in the United States, Howard Rheingold, in his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2012),  discusses more explicitly the balance between the peaceful mind and a clever reorganization of the computer desktop. The idea is not, Rheingold writes, to capture the flow and to freeze-dry the incoming status updates, but to create a mental distance from the scene. It is all about feeling like you’re back in control, gaining confidence, and becoming independent again. There is a movement of tactical detachment at play here. In this context, the addiction metaphor is misleading. It is not about total involvement followed by complete withdrawal. In the case of social media, withdrawal is often not possible for social and economic reasons. Who can afford to endanger his or her social capital? Rheingold knows this and offers his readers a range of practical guidelines for how to master the master’s media.
What makes Net Smart and the accompanying online video lectures by Rheingold so compelling is not the author’s utopian message, nor his merciless deconstruction of the corporate agendas of the Silicon Valley giants. Rheingold is neither a net visionary à la Wired magazine editor Kevin Kelly, nor a continental European critic. However, he is a brilliant and nuanced instructor who believes in “internal discipline, not ascetic withdrawal.” Net Smart is a pamphlet in favor of public education. Self-control along with other social media literacy needs to be taught, Rheingold argues. We’re not born with these skills. We need to learn how to practice “real-time curation.” Following Daniel Sieger, author of The Mindful Brain (2007), Rheingold argues that we have to wake up from a life on automatic. Forget for a moment how many of us prefer this state of mind—killing time by using escapist social media, in non-spaces, surrounded by non-people, is widespread, and loved, as we all know. What Rheingold teaches us are tricks to train the brain—for instance, through breath exercises. He concludes the book by saying that “the emerging digital divide is between those who know how to use social media for individual advantage and collective action, and those who don’t.
In my view, the best part of Net Smart deals with “crap detection,” a 1960s term that indicates a critical attitude towards information. Using your “crap detector” meant that you inquired about the political, religious, and ideological background of the person who was talking. (Let’s do some fact-checking!Ernest Hemmingway and Neil Postman both argued that everyone needed a built-in crap detector. In today’s age, where there are ten times as many PR agents as fact-checking journalists, internet users are supposed to do their own homework. How do we dissect the pseudo-information that comes from think-tanks and consultants? The postmodern insight that everything is “discourse” also contributed to the demise of the clear demarcation line between propaganda and truth. What I like is Rheingold’s blend of old-school values concerning media manipulation coupled with a sophisticated knowledge of how to manage a range of online research tools, both in terms of their functionality and interface usability. Rheingold’s screen is large, there are a lot of menus open at the same time, yet he is in charge. This is called personal dashboard design—and we don’t hear enough about this, as the organization of one’s desktop is supposed to be a private matter. Rheingold calls it “infotention,” which he defines as “synchronizing your attentional habits with your information tools,” with the aim to better “find, direct and manage information.”
The different forms of social media are often portrayed as necessary channels of communication. For Rheingold and Johnson, they are here to stay. For the outgoing European baby boomers, however, these platforms may seem like nothing more than nihilist drugs which produce the contant feeling that we are being left out of something, that we are about to miss the boat. Linking, liking, and sharing uphold the systemic boredom and “rienisme” that is a consequence of the event inflation that we all experience. It therefore comes as a surprise to read Tom Chatfield’s How to Thrive in the Digital Age (2012)—a booklet in Alain de Botton’s “School of Life” series—which claims to reinvent the genre of the self-help book. No more moralistic warnings and well-meaning tips, such as the one from Evgeny Morozov, who hides his iPhone and internet cable in a treasure chest when he has to work. Surprisingly, Chatfield’s way out is to politicize the field in the spirit of the Arab SpringOccupyWikileaksAnonymous, pirate parties, and demonstrations in favor of online anti-copyright peer-to-peer exchanges (such as Kim Dotcom’s recently launched Mega platform). We have received enough tips for how to carve out time away from our smart phones, he says. Offline romanticism as a lifestyle solution is a dead horse, and so is its philosophical equivalent of “interpassivity” as formulated by Robert Pfaller and Gijs van Oenen.4 

While it may be liberating to let go of all our gadgets, to do nothing for a while, to pretend to live in accordance with nature and enjoy a well-deserved break, what do we but then? Venture into slow communication? For Chatfield, what comes after the information hangover are new forms of collective living. Through protests and other collective experiences, we find ourselves dragged into events, stories, situations, and people that make us forget all the yelling emails, Tumblr image cascades, and Twitter business-as-usual. When will the Long Wait be over?

After the Social Media Hype: Dealing with Information Overload Geert Lovink

ANTI-SOCIAL NETWORK

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INFORMATION OVERLOAD


GIORNALISMO OPEN SOURCE 2.0






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