"Information anxiety" is caused by the "ever
widening gap between what we understand and what we think
we should understand" (according to Saul Wurman,
who coined the term). But what makes us think we "should"
There are two common notions about "being informed":
i) it's irresponsible not to be,
and ii) it's unsafe not to be.
In other words, social consensus (which defines "irresponsible")
and basic survival anxieties (which define "unsafe")
lead to information anxiety so it perhaps shouldn't
be underestimated as a social influence.
Most people probably feel Oprahfied to some extent
ie pressured to have opinions on everything the media
defines as important. And they fear falling behind. (According
to a report in the Guardian,
nearly half the population have this fear). This is possibly
due to good marketing the advertisers' constant
drip, drip of things you "should" know about is
intended to induce anxiety, so you spend money to relieve
it. (A major UK company's marketing chief once admitted to
me that his profession was concerned entirely with stimulating
consumer fear and greed).
As a selling strategy, "fear of being left out"
has no limits when applied to media (entertainment/information-based)
products. There's a limit to how many cars you need, but there's
no limit to what you "should" know about.
The info-anxiety theory recommends that we find more effective
ways to process information, so we can absorb more
without being overwhelmed. A better approach, however, might
be to simply filter out the 99.9% of information that serves
no purpose for you.
How much "information" consists of people making
noises to avoid listening to themselves think? Media personalities
tend not to be quietly reflective. The over-representation
of "loud" personalities on TV no doubt contributes
to the increasingly accepted notion that "quiet introspection"
is a mental illness. Peaceful isolation from extroversion
and media noise seems like a difficult commodity to find.
Fortunately, you don't need a cave to escape to you
can take a holiday from info-noise without going anywhere,
simply by changing a few parameters of your mental processes.
This technique has existed in various forms for centuries
used by "eccentrics" who wanted to revive
their faculty of thinking, as opposed to having
people's thoughts (ie reflection rather than verbal loops).
Side effects included improved imagination and weirder dreams:
For a set period
(eg 1 or 2 weeks), completely avoid TV, newspapers, magazines,
radio, browsing in newsagents, topical chatter etc. This is
done by refusing such stimuli any admittance to your mind.
Mass-media "information" appears (to us) as mostly
non-useful, vaguely entertaining distraction. Of the non-trivial,
non-amusement content (eg some of "The News"),
most concerns things you're powerless to influence. (Conversely,
the issues you might influence seem notably absent from "The
Why clutter your brain with things you can do nothing about?
How can it be irresponsible or unsafe to ignore
it, if it's of no use to you?
Get your daily
virus here today! Two varieties available: "Worried
Conformist" or "Take-it-easy Individualist"!