We live in a society of drug addicts. Your best friend is probably one. So is your family. And odds are, so are you. Yet your drug isn’t one of the usual suspects, it’s much subtler, much quieter, without any social stigma, and possibly, because of these reasons, much more dangerous.
That drug is information.
As a 15 year old, I’ve grown up with information permeating through every aspect of my existence. I need to know what my friends are doing 24/7 - first on Facebook, heck if I’ve checked Facebook, why not Instagram, and if that is done, there’s always Snapchat.
I mustn’t forget the endless stream of content produced on platforms like Youtube, like watching your favourite vlogger tell you to live live to the fullest while you watch, secluded, from your room, or Buzzfeed, because watching “BFFs Take A Caribbean Cruise For The First Time” is a valuable use of my time.
And so, over the past few months, I’ve realised that most of the content we consume online is completely useless.
This is the first time in history that humans have been exposed to so much information. And the speed at which the Internet was adopted means that we are utterly unprepared to deal with the sheer amount of it, and the effects this much information has on us.
This is the first time in history that humans have been exposed to so much information. And the speed at which the Internet was adopted means that we are utterly unprepared to deal with the sheer amount of it.
How many of us can say that they haven’t, even once, fallen down a rabbit hole of links, moving from one to the next, from one Google search to another, with no clearly defined purpose, perhaps even aware of the futility of the behaviour, yet still continued?
Our societies biggest and most influential companies — Google, Facebook, and Apple, all rely on your need for information. It is, perhaps, because of our thirst for it that these companies have reached the levels of influence that they have today.
Why are we so addicted to information?
If we want to loosen the grasp of the need to be informed on ourselves, we must first understand why exactly we yearn so much information in the first place.
As primitive humans, we were wired to seek out things that would improve our chances of survival. Things like sugary foods, higher social status, and information. Why information? According to this article in Scientific American, it’s because:
Having access to more relevant information — such as knowing where the food is located — allows animals to make better decisions. Furthermore, having access to such information might give us better control over our environment, thus increasing our chances of survival.
These things activate reward systems in our brain that release a chemical called dopamine, the same chemical released in pleasurable situations like eating fried foods or socialising.
So, the internet can be as addictive as food, but it also has other adverse side effects. According to this article in Wired, it overstimulates the brain by providing too much information, and produces a “weakening of our capacity for the kind of deep processing that underpins mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”, it also gives us a reduced attention span, and possibly, a side-effect is friction in personal relationships.
What do we do about it?
Of course, the internet isn’t all that bad. It has increased the number of people who can access information and learn things by orders of magnitude with sites like Wikipedia and Youtube. And scrolling online for fun isn’t bad, it’s a legitimate way to be entertained and to relax. It’s the way and the amount we use it that’s the problem
After thinking about it, I realised that information is akin to food. Quick internet articles and listicles are like junk food — fast, fun, and unhealthy, while proper books are healthy food — not as fun or fast, but much better for us.
If we want to loosen the grasp the internet has on us, we need to start to think about the information we consume the same way we think about the food we eat.
We need to go on an information diet, the same way we would go on a food diet, and get rid of the junk information we consume so much of every day.
So next time you find yourself on the internet, ask yourself these questions
Am I here for a reason?
Is what I’m reading really providing any value to me?
Are there more valuable uses of my time than reading what’s in front of me?
After a while, you will intrinsically understand when you are doing something useful online or not.
The internet is not good or bad, it’s a tool, and it’s the way tools are used that defines how good or bad they are. The internet can be used to learn how to code, or to communicate with people across the globe, or it can be used as a waste of time scrolling through hours of useless content.
Our need for information, just like our need for food, needs to be controlled. Being addicted to information is as bad as an addiction to anything else.
It’s time we force ourselves into control over what information we consume, before it controls us.
Thanks for reading
Here’s some other posts I’ve written
You Need To Go On An Information Diet
We live in a society of drug addicts. Your best friend is probably one. So is your family. And odds are, so are you…
Apple’s Speciality Isn’t Hardware Or Software
The obvious point everyone misses when criticising Apple