Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.


 
Sunday, November 21, 2010

Infobesity


"By all rights, V, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Link. From an economic perspective, it's similar to obesity: fatty calories available at the lowest cost, with the greatest abundance, and at the greatest immediacy. Result? Overfed--but malnourished.

Hence, infobesity: gorging on low-quality info, an information diet of junkfood. Result? Overfed--but malnourished.

Sure--the jury's out. But a little bit of introspection might suggest that just as a diet of McDonald's, KFC, and Cinnabon ain't exactly a recipe for physical health, so a diet of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter might just not be a recipe for intellectual development (especially if they substitute for, say, reading Adam Smith, Aeschylus, or just plain a book or three).

Yes, there are benefits--greater social cohesion, more attuned empathy, more liquid flows of info, more rapid awareness. But do they outweigh the likely costs?

-- umair // 6:57 PM // 11 comments


Comments:

I completely agree with the junk food calorie analogy Umair. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that 30 years Vishal wouldn't have gotten Vonnegut read either, but the excuse would have been all of the wonderful Gilligan's Island and I Dream of Jeannie reruns that were available ("in television shows you can get the whole story in just 30 minutes!"). Infobesity has been around a lot longer than the internet has...

On an unrelated note, your book is buyable on Kindle RIGHT NOW! That's pretty cool - will read it soon.
// Anonymous Tim Kastelle // 7:27 PM
 

There is great evidence, collectively the outcomes of all activity in the 19th and 20th century, that having students and readers focus heavily on designated great works will destroy the world. Such focus correlates heavily with trusted central authority in intellectual realms, journalism, and that shapes a worldview optimized for coordination and production at the expense of local interconnectedness and wisdom.

There is not yet much evidence that atomizing that attention back into local and competing remote concerns will undue the damage, but it's worth a second and third look :)
// Blogger Preston // 8:26 PM
 

Your argument only works if you keep it simplistic and at the surface. Who's to say that what Vishal learned from Facebook, YouTube and making videos wasn't much more valuable than Vonnegut. Just because you can use those tools for infobesity doesn't mean you do - since you can use them for growing exponentially as well!
// Anonymous Paul (MiNutrition) McConaughy // 8:56 PM
 

Great word, infobesity. Sad reality though. For
An overwhelmingly insular society, infobesity is faaaar
Worse than just being plain fat. I reallyike tthis blog.
// Blogger john_namu // 9:05 PM
 

My situation exactly. I cannot finish an f'ing book , but spend all spare time on Reader, Twitter, etc. Then again I was never a good reader, but it has gotten worse since I discovered Twitter. Nobody's fault but mine.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 9:11 PM
 

Research suggests that our brains are built to flit between tasks, and to absorb information in small chunks instead of categorised and methodical like in a book.

Why at school are we made to memorise and categorise, and rewarded for this? At school, hinking outside the square and not repeating verbatim the info we are fed is seen as failure.

Could this not be a factor in the foundations of capitalism?

Why can't these new mediums of twitter, facebook and you tube be used to effectively teach?
// Anonymous Michelle Williams // 9:37 PM
 

Good and Evil. If I choose to not be selfish and learn worthless info then I can choose to better myself through which content is on my twitter lists, or how I'm using my time on Facebook to help others and not play games or talk about my day. I'm using it to learn new skills, research topics, ask questions which will help me understand how to be less selfish and more spiritual, etc... Free wifi so everyone has this chance to better themselves through learning resources. @nnydanger
// Anonymous @nnydanger // 10:53 PM
 

I agree with you Umair. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter are time killer and the time spent is a certain wastage.

I hope the younger generation will understand that it is alright to spend time on these social sites, but should not be considered as an alternative to conventional ways of learning. As Tim said, it is not about Internet or these sites, it is about taking time out and spending time in genuine information ingestion with patience.
// Blogger Ravi P // 4:19 AM
 

Awesome neologism Umair!
// Anonymous Sethop // 10:17 AM
 

I find it somewhat ironic that I found this blog entry by following you on twitter...
// Anonymous Anonymous // 3:26 AM
 

I think this (inf)obesity is a decent analogy for how we use the internet today. There are varying levels of information quality, just as there are of food. In that sense, constant intake of info through reader, twitter, etc, is like eating nonstop - though I would say that if the information content is good (like, let's say, your blog) it's more like snacking on carrots than stuffing your face with potato chips, or youtube.

However, the thing about Vonnegut and similar books is that they're meant to be enjoyed over time. They're beautiful and meaningful - as all art is - and that is what we're losing in the information age. Little by little, we're learning to be satisfied by indulging because it boosts consumption, which means more can be sold to us. That's why we're obese - first on food, then on information.

Plus it's the most individualized form of consumption yet...
// Blogger Zachary Charles // 4:02 AM
 
 

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