Overloaded, Under-informed

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Nick de la Mare, Frog Design.
Nick de la Mare, Frog Design.
In 1893 the Newark Ohio Daily Advocate ran a series of articles predicting what the world would look like in a hundred years.

"Every person" they said, "of fairly good education and of restless mind writes a book. As a rule, it is a superficial book, but it swells the bulk and it indicated the cerebral unrest that is trying to express itself. We have arrived at a condition in which more books are printed than the world can read. This is true not only of books that are not worth reading, but it is true of the books that are. All this I take to be the result of an intellectual enfranchisement that is new, and of a dissemination of knowledge instead of concentration of culture. Everybody wants to say something. But it is slowly growing upon the world that everybody has not got something to say. Therefore one may even at this moment detect the causes which will produce reaction. In 100 years there will not be so many books printed, but there will be more said. That seems to me to be inevitable."

Their vision for the future of media is one that we're living with today. Simply replace book with blog, Facebook, MySpace, text message or tweet, and we've clearly reached a point where the amount of media we generate has surpassed our capacity to absorb it all. We're still producing a vast number of printed books, but lamenting the death of print; while cheaper and quicker media streams continue to skyrocket. Naturally people are conflicted, many feeling overwhelmed with the shear variety and velocity of media, but also empowered; "Everybody wants to say something" is a reality and a promise.

When the article says "Everybody wants to say something. But it is slowly growing upon the world that everybody has not got something to say," I see the present day. We're at an inflection point, a moment in time unlike any before, where we've assimilated the cacophony and are now forced to decide whether to forge ahead and manually process massive amounts of data for gems, or to preemptively cut out the least likely or relevant streams. The former direction is overwhelming and the latter returns us to a world not unlike the 1890s, where our ability to get the word out was governed by the limitations of time and space and the desire of people to engage with us.

Now time and place are elastic, but our interests may be less so. We need intimate communities to sustain us and reflect our values back at us, and relevant, locational information to provide us with that comfortable feeling of place and time.

So what comes after this information explosion? The assumption is that we're now entering another age where curation, down-selection and relevance become the buzzwords; a world where we have to be careful that the streams we follow don't cease to enrich us and instead create prison walls around our curiosity. The huge number of information streams before us gives the power to choose only those that are agreeable, to reinforce our culture and values at the exclusion of the new and uncomfortable. One of the nice things about standing under a waterfall of information is that you are forced to engage with viewpoints and perspectives you wouldn't have chosen on your own.

The paradox is clear: the danger in choice is that we choose too narrowly.


Nick de la Mare, a Creative Director at frog design San Francisco, has spent his career designing digital, physical and experiential systems.
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