Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Sad Demise of Random Information

I guess it was inevitable that when information overload got to be more than we humans could deal with that we would start becoming self-censors. The tech tools that have the capacity to immerse us in information each day also come with the controls to restrain the flow. Naturally, when given the option of picking what information we see, we pick the just the stuff we like – in a very SPECIFIC and limited way. And therein lies the problem. My dirty little secret is that I do NOT control all of the information coming into my life. I realize that my retro approach is out of style and probably labels me as a technophobe in some circles. On the other hand, I use two computers in tandem most days, as well as an iPhone and an IPad and other digital toys. I am rather adept at managing all of these tools – at least for an old lady! I run my business virtually and I love cloud computing. I have Google Alerts and I know about RSS feeds. I have the technology to rigidly control the information that reaches me, but I don’t use it. I remember when there were just two TV channels to choose from and if you wanted to see a show, you made a point of being in front of the set when it was on. While you could choose between rock and classical music, the radio stations played what they chose to play (or perhaps what the DJ chose to play – remember payola?), and we teenagers loved the rock and roll stations and never questioned the selections. We chose books to read based on what was in the bookstore for sale or the library for check-out. Or sometimes we simply read the books that were already in the house because books were expensive to buy. There weren’t that many magazines to subscribe to and most households got the same mixture. In my house growing up, it was US News and World Report, Readers’ Digest, Better Homes and Garden , McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, Fortune and American Heritage. What an assortment and each brought us new, unplanned adventures each month! There was a morning paper and an evening paper and only one of each. We read them both – everybody did. It wasn’t even something you thought about. We watched whatever was on at the movie theater and there were just a handful of movie theatres in the city and certainly no multi—plexes. The drive-in was showing whatever it was showing. In those days we took also aimless rides in the country on Sunday afternoons . Life was slow and much of it was random. We ate what was on special at the supermarket and wore what was on sale at the department store – that was just the way it was. But gradually, our lifestyles changed. We got VCRs and learned how to tape shows for viewing later. We learned how to record or favorite songs on cassette tapes and carried a Walkman. The aimless drives fell victim to the gasoline shortage. We now have out GPS and don’t even get lost the way we used to. We know our route and we can even preview it in advance. The magazines and newspapers were hold outs, but eventually they went on line and became indexed and searchable. We started shopping at Amazon and then began downloading books, magazines and newspapers. And of course today there is a magazine for every interest, and most have apps you can download on your phone or tablet. In short, we went from a few choices to a zillion choices in everything we do and the information barrage increased exponentially. And we just put up the filters – but I couldn’t bear to filter everything and to have a steady diet of only what interests me. I need the stimulation of what doesn’t really interest me that much. For me that means sitting down in front of the TV and checking to see what might be on and maybe picking something that doesn’t excite me. It means reading a magazine that is not my favorite. It also means turning on the radio in the car and listening to whatever is playing. I choose to read my newspaper by turning the paper pages instead of searching the online index. Sometimes, I turn off the GPS and intuit my way on a road I have never traveled that goes in the right general direction. Yes, we even buy season theater subscriptions, taking a chance on randomness. There is a synergy that happens when you bring in a mixture of random ideas, and that is worth all the minutes lost in ideas that really are not that relevant or inspiring. We, as humans, need that kind of rich fuel for our brains.