Information Overload

Article By: Ysabel Ayala

Illustration By: Sung Hee Bae

Need directions? Check Google Maps. Need to know the atomic number of phosphorus? Ask Siri. These days, it does not take a whole library to access the information we are seeking. Now, the information merely rests in the palms of our hands. The modern age has allowed mankind to uncover amounts of information impossible in the Medieval or the Renaissance ages; but of such a massive quantity of information, how much of it is really useful? Are we merely just learning more and more about nothing? Finding a balance between determining what information is junk or relevant is a matter that may hinder the human race or progress it to new heights.

Despite having limited exposure to information compared to the exposure available today, revolutionary geniuses such as Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci were able to create lasting impressions on the world. On the other hand, with so much information, modern society is unable to set forward people that accomplish greatness like the previous geniuses. As professor Daniel Levitin of McGill University so accurately states: “We are overloaded with junk.” Because of our copious supply of information, it is difficult to sort out what needs to be paid attention to, and make revolutionary breakthroughs. Geniuses like Picasso and Van Gogh were able to make their mark on the world by taking new perspectives on old things. In Professor David Galenson’s words, “They cut through all the accumulated stuff — forget what’s been done — to see something special, something new.” Nowadays, we are faced with so much knowledge that it is exponentially harder to cut out the irrelevant. This is perhaps why we have yet to see another genius be born.

That being said, perhaps this information boom is not such a drawback. A significant response to this “information overload” is the advancement in collaboration and specialization. For example, in fields such as biology, we have pioneered through so many discoveries that general “biologists” no longer exist- rather, specialized taxonomists, geneticists, and evolutionary biologists exist. Thus, technology has sparked extreme specialization and work in specific disciplines, ultimately unlocking the most minute of detail and information. Similarly, this explosion of information promotes collaboration. Teamwork is necessary in today’s digital age because we must consider great amounts of detail from the immense amounts of technology available. As pointed out by Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University, in the 20th century “the Wright brothers invented the airplane; today the design of the jet engine calls upon 30 different disciplines requiring a vast array of specialized teams.”

Even if technology in the modern age may unload an immense amount of junk, it does bring about useful qualities of teamwork and specialization. We may not find a Leonardo Da Vinci anytime soon, but perhaps a group of geniuses working together is better after all.