More is less is more is more is less.
Information overload is something that appears to be commonplace in 2016. Not just because we receive a lot of information on a near constant basis, but because almost every medium to large sized online publication worth its salt has its own article about it. This is another one of those articles. So it’s part of the problem. Sorry.
Well, that’s not strictly true. I mean yes, it’s definitely going to be about information overload, but often when reading these articles, it can feel as if it’s mainly coming from a more ‘adult’ perspective — the perspective of baby boomers and older, as opposed to millenials who have and will continue to bear the brunt of it. When reading these articles, it certainly feels like a generational thing. Often it will be a 50-something columnist bemoaning texting — or worse — saying things like “Twatter” and “Facetube” to give themselves an air of faux-ignorance.
People in their early twenties and younger, have never experienced that change, or at least, not to the same extent their parents have, most of the changes in terms of smartphones and internet media etc. have happened right before our eyes as we grow up, and before we’ve had time to really process them, so naturally we’re less inclined to fight it.
Is it something to be fought? Is this ‘new age’, particular on social media, something to be actively shunned? Ask most youngish adults and at first they’d probably say ‘yes’. A place solely for ‘nerds’ the internet is not, but people still like to think they’ve got better things to do. So, are they fighting it? Is anything being done about it? Not really. After all, 82% of all Facebook users are aged between 18–29 according to PewResearch, and with Facebook having over one billion regular users, on the whole, it doesn’t seem like it’s anyone’s fighting very hard. Another survey — this time from UK newspaper The Guardian — found that from a sample of 2,000 UK residents, using social media topped the list when it came to what made them happiest. While this may come as a surprise (you might have gasped in outrage if you’re a Facetuber), it probably shouldn’t. The internet, and social media are absolutely brilliant. How many new bands did you find on social media? Loads. Where did you find that smashing picture of Yellowstone National Park? Pinterest. How did you first hear about how totally awful Margaret Thatcher was? Your dad. But you probably looked her up on the internet when you decided you wanted to know a bit more than just expletives.
You can find out anything on the internet. You can find out everything. And that’s a great thing isn’t it?
Not always. No one can know everything, and not many people want to know everything. But sometimes you can’t help it. It’s too easy to click on that link to Neil DeGrasse Tyson telling you something whacky about space, and then find out why Batman vs Superman was the worst film of all time, and why superheroes as a movie genre have hit their zenith. Same applies to music. You could listen to ten different albums in a week, or even a day. But did you really listen? Or did you just make a snap decision and move onto the next thing. There’ll always be the odd thing that stands out, but sometimes, there is too much, and it’s too easy to get it. This is known most commonly as analysis paralysis — we simply don’t have the cranial capacity to process the plethora of choices we have at our fingertips. In fact, a recent Yale University study showed that the more choices we have, the more likely we are to be unhappy, or even succumb to depression. It’s also interesting to note that 44% of college students in America have reported symptoms of depression. To assume this overwhelming amount of choice is the sole reason for this upsetting statistic would be naive, but it would be equally foolish not to assume that the two are linked.
Not only does this affect mental health, but the identity and quality of our popular culture is also at stake. This isn’t to say that what is being produced now is bad, the new Star Wars film for example was on the whole pretty good. But that’s just the issue. Would Star Wars have the same cultural stranglehold if it had been created today? Of course not. This is down to several reasons, particularly its identity as a film, what made it special was that it was revolutionary in its special effects; it had great storytelling, memorable characters and so on. There was nothing exactly like it at the time, and that’s just it. There was a lot less things when Star Wars was released in 1977, television channels, radio stations, there was no internet. To directly reference Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media, this has a blurring effect on popular culture, i.e. the more things there are, the less memorable those things can be.
Think about living in the 1950s or a time around then, and imagine you were wanting to listen to some music. You could choose whatever records were available in a local shop, or you could go and see a local band, or a touring act if you were lucky, but that’s about it. Go further back and you had even less to choose from, come back to the present, and you can listen to any band or any sound from any time on the internet or a live set from somewhere else in the world, or you can go on a plane and see a band in a different country, or even if you couldn’t afford a plane ticket there are countless local artists, playing in pretty much every genre if you live in a big-ish city. The more you have, the less each thing matters. The 20th century was far more easily defined, particularly in music because there were so many less things happening, and the further away in the world you got from that thing, the less you were likely to know about it. The rock n roll of the 50s, the synth pop of the 80s, the gangster rap of the 90s — sure, there was a little more to it than that, but these decades had fairly definable traits. Try and think of a definable trait in music of the last few years that’s lasted particularly long, and you’ll struggle. Cross pollination within genres is so potent in 2016, that a band in Australia that have just released their debut album are already influencing a band who have formed in America just 3 months ago, and so the cycle will continue, and the feedback loop will get shorter and shorter.
But how short can it get? How long before we inevitably hit a wall and do a Citizen Kane in our nearest Curry’s? How you ask? Slow down. Buy an album, don’t just stream it. If you’ve parted with hard earned cash, you’re going to listen to every morsel of that album, you’re going to read those lyrics, and think about how the person who made them is feeling, and how that does or doesn’t relate to you. Buy one or two films, don’t download one hundred. If you’ve got Netflix, don’t watch a whole TV series in a couple of sittings, take your time, savour it. If you can take even a tenth of the time it took to make the show to think about how it made you feel, or what it made you think about then in turn you will enrich yourself, and you can begin to define what you like, what makes you tick as a person, and as a result, understand yourself as an individual in greater depth. Sure, some of these albums, or films or shows might not be of the best quality, but even mediocre quality is better than high quantity. Nobody wants to be a nobody, and by truly investing in other things, you in turn invest in and define yourself, and thus your own generation.