I was climbing into my car this morning, setting out to chauffeur the offspring to their hallowed halls of learning. As I turned the key in the ignition, the radio came on. "... At least thirty-seven people were killed in an attack in Northern Nigeria this morning..." I hit the "off" switch. And immediately felt a stab of guilt. Don't I care about the people in Northern Nigeria? Don't I need to stay informed?
And as I was rolling down the road, I was mulling this over in my mind. Yes, of course I care about the people in Northern Nigeria. But does that mean I need to hear about everything that goes on there? Do I really need to be informed of everything that happens in the world? And the simple, plain answer is "No". Because the fact is that it's utterly impossible to be informed of everything that goes on in the world. It's utterly impossible to be informed of everything that goes on in my immediate surroundings, let alone my town, let alone my province, let alone... You get my drift?
I laughed really hard when I found out about the iPhone app that lets you type and walk at the same time. The phone's little camera films what goes on in front of you, and then tells you on the screen, so you don't have to bother looking up and seeing your surroundings for yourself. Some versions go even further: they tell you what's there, they conveniently label it for you ("Restaurant A", "Telephone pole", "Restaurant B"...). There's even a word for that: "Augmented Reality". No, really!
And that, I think, is actually a rather apt description of what's being fed to us through the media under the guise of "information". Augmented reality. Filtered through the eye of the camera lens, the news reporter's choice, the information service website: "item to be shocked at", "item to find ridiculous", or "item to be excited about". Without those filters, we're barely capable of reacting on our own any more. And that could become a real problem.
You see, I am firmly convinced that our human capacity for compassion, for being moved by hearing of other people's plight, has a purpose. It's meant to move us to action. Hearing of thirty-seven Nigerians killed in an attack pushes my compassion buttons, disturbs me and moves me. But it doesn't move me in any useful direction. It disturbs the waters of my mind (which are a murky pond at the best of times) for no purpose other than the disturbance itself. And I really don't need that. My hearing of the events in Nigeria will not do the Nigerians one bit of good - and while my emotions are being disturbed by something I cannot do anything about, I miss the opportunity of being moved to action on behalf of my neighbour who might be needing a helping hand with something.
We're in grave danger, in today's information society, of being so informed we become inbred, ingrown - so informed we become de-formed.
Information is good, is necessary, is useful - but we need to choose which use we put it to, which filter we apply or allow to have applied for us. I no longer want news services to augment my reality for me. "OFF".
Life, the Universe, and Information. Who's augmenting your reality?