information overload

Just ran across a fascinating tidbit in a book I'm rereading*.

A footnote on page 152 reads "Researchers at Bell Laboratories estimate that there is more information in a weekday edition of the New York Times than a person in the sixteenth century processed in a lifetime." Pretty interesting to think about.

...and this (1979) was before the NYT added Weekend, Circuits, Dining and World Business, etc.

*The book is Lawrence Shainberg's BRAIN SURGEON (Lippincott, 1979). It's the psuedonominous biography of Dr. Joseph Ransohoff, MD, now deceased, whom I knew in the early '90s.


I think we in the 21st century are a bit smug about just how much "information" we absorb, experience, and turn into knowledge. It's simply different in form and medium than in the past.

My grandparents lived from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Think what they had to observe and learn to begin using (repair and sometimes build) the automobile, the telephone, the radio, etc.--all unknown to their parents and before 1920. They still had to use all that information that had been passed down to them like drawing water from a cistern, milking cows, slaughtering pigs, using kerosene motors and lamps, planting gardens and then preserving them by drying or canning, complex social systems that included not only family and neighbors, but hired men and women who may have lived and eaten every meal with them but were also their employees.

And there were all the education challenges we don't face today. Like one room schools where the children heard every lesson of every child every year they were enrolled. I'll bet there was a bit of information overload there.

There are millions of skills and abilities that the current population doesn't have that were considered basic common sense and essential for life a hundred years ago. And it was all built on "information."

I do feel "overload" sometimes--TV's on, I'm on the internet, cooking something in the kitchen, getting up to run an appliance, talking on the phone, two books open that I'm glancing through. But to do this, I've simply chosen not to "be informed" about other things.

My husband just asked, "what's for supper." And while continuing to type I said, "Clam Chowder." "Are you going to make it?" he said hopefully. "Of course not, I'm going to open a can." (I don't have enough information, or ingredients, to make clam chowder.)

The 16th Cent. person only ran across that much printed information, and that's probably on average. Since most were illiterate... you do the math.Do you know ho to shear a sheep? Does that count as information? How to weave? When to tie off blossoms? How to train a herding dog? Are those things not information? Do you know the significance of the size of a male pig's scrotum (how big its piglets are going to be)?It depends on how you're defining things.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

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