I live in a sea of information. I twitch between sources — Facebook, Twitter, NY Times, Medium — endlessly searching for something important, something challenging, something distracting. I tell myself I’m learning or staying informed. But am I? Or am I just drowning in open tabs, saved articles, and news notifications?
Do you remember life before the “Information Age”?
Even better, do you remember librarians? I wasn’t the coolest of kids, so I spent a lot of my free time in libraries. I remember thinking the librarians had a superpower. They knew exactly how to find information that pushed me forward and expanded my mind. They challenged me when I asked a question — digging deep to understand what I really needed, rather than delivering the first publication within arms reach. These superheroes curated the information of my childhood.
The internet enters, stage left.
As I grew up, I learned some of their investigative skills and I learned about the internet. Suddenly, I could find information the way the heroes of my childhood did. Now I had my own superpower — the ability to Google. I mostly wielded my power for good, ending age-old family feuds with a single search or saving the world from going to a mediocre restaurant for dinner. I became a skilled searcher and as more data came online this talent gave me a leg up in life. I learned how to find every article that cited my favorite professor, what charities my clients supported, and where to find unpublished pricing cards before a negotiation. I also read more than ever before, from diverse perspectives that pushed me forward the way the librarians of my childhood had. Free access to information felt good. No, it felt like magic.
Where has my superpower gone?
That access is still free. In fact, it’s more available then ever before. So why don’t I feel good? Where has my superpower gone? Today, a search always delivers results— but it doesn’t always deliver answers. Think of the last time you searched medical symptoms, hoping for advice. Sore throat? Probably cancer. Upset stomach? Definitely AIDS. To borrow a metaphor, we’re swimming in a sea of information, with not a drop to drink.
Bring back the librarians.
This month I’ve found myself stepping back, searching less and having more “IRL” conversations. I’m considering a fiction-only reading diet for the next few months. Sure, it’s low protein but it’s low fat also.
I’ll emerge wanting information again, with diverse perspectives and fact checking I can trust. Where will I turn? I’m not sure yet, but I’d love a librarian to guide my way.