Monday, April 16, 2012

Overlooked Over-consumption

I've heard a lot about information overload in the past few weeks.  There was a big story on NPR about the need to filter to get quality information to help build our world view.  And their prescription was consistent with some of the current thinking on food.  In fact, the speaker adapted a saying from Michael Pollan and said "Consume news, not too much, mostly facts."  

The theme was that society is providing an unhealthy version of something (information, food) that we had evolved to prefer over traditional "healthy" consumption.  But those are just two epidemics that have come to the attention of the national media.  There have been other overload that have been less publicized and/or neatly packaged.  In fact, with the current post-industrial era, there are many other areas where we have an overload that needs to be corrected.  


Four thousand years ago, during the agricultural age, people lived their entire lives within a few miles of where they were born.  During the industrial revolution, people lived in cities near their factories.  But with the invention of air travel and proliferation of cars, people have spread out across the countryside.  They are spending hours per day traveling and their health is suffering.  Air pollution, excessive sitting, high-speed fatalities and lost time with family are increasingly large problems that are exacerbated by increased travel.  


I'm sure I'm going to get some push-back on this one.  Emotions have existed since the beginning of time.  Our ancestors were afflicted by the same range of emotions as us - everything from happiness to fear to stress to anger.  But with media (first mass, then social), we've gotten both more homogeneous and more extreme in our feelings as a culture.  Fear of communists and terrorists, anger at our economy and political system, love for cute kittens.  Emotion sells better than cold, hard facts, and today almost everything has an emotional component to its advertising, use, or value.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a consumer product that isn't associated with an emotion.  

Any Communication that's not "In Person"

In the discussion above about information, they talked about how some information is bad and you need to limit your consumption. I go further.  Any form of information transfer that was developed after agriculture is something we need to consume with care.  We are not designed for either large-scale mediums or direct communications that are missing body language and inputs for our other senses.  It's unhealthy for humans as currently evolved.  We need to balance it with a healthy dose of face-to-face personal relationships, or we isolate ourselves.  

What other overloads have you seen in our society?  If you don't see them, just think about what we have now that we didn't have 100 years ago, and I bet people are consuming way too much.  


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