We complain about information overload, and yet we also get an almost eschatological thrill from the glittering glut, as if the acceleration of communication and the bandwidth bursting density of the datastream can somehow amplify the self and its capacities.
There's something about this passage from Erik Davis' Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, & Mysticism in the Age of Information — how engaging in information overload is compared to a thrill. An acknowledgement of the riches we get from the web and, at the same time, an acknowledgement of its gravity upon our psyche. Both delight and caution in the cup that runneth over. This feeling is out there. I found this post from Alejandro called “The Weight of the Clipboard” (source) that articulates it so well:
It feels more like an invisible weight that can be felt through every idea and keystroke. Through every executed action, like something you can lose, something you need, something missing from the stream of data you’re writing.
Tom Critchlow also gets at the feeling in this post:
I spend all day long slinging URLs around. Mostly, when I copy and paste a URL it’s treated as a string of characters. But you and I know that a URL is heavy. A URL is a representation of a blog post, or a product I want to buy, or a hike I want to go on, or an Airbnb I’m going to book.
The invisible weight that Alejandro and Tom describe reminds me of the bandwidth bursting density of the datastream Davis mentioned earlier. How do we manage the deluge of digital detritus in a way that both respects its weight and acknowledges this innate desire for information foraging. To quote Davis again,
Information gathering defines civilization as much as food gathering defines the nomadic cultures that preceded the rise of urban communities, agricultural surplus, and stratified social hierarchies. From the moment the first scribe took up a reed and scratched a database into the cool clay of Sumer, information flow has been an instrument of human power and control [...]
From cool clay to svelte silicon, its information gathering all the way down. “Opening tabs and browsing the web is essential to task completion.” Tom mentions in his above post. “Tab sprawl is a symptom of a basic task: web foraging.”
Speaking of tables, I've been looking into Tom Critchlow's Electric Tables lately as a way to deal everything mentioned above. It's interesting how Tom uses similar language to describe this project — Electric Tables as a way to respect the gravity of a URL while allowing for more nimble foraging of them. Such a description parallels my experience so far.
The cup still runneth over, but at least the runover is being caught somewhere this time.