If you spend any time at all on the Internet, you understand that we are living in unique times. Never in the history of civilized man have we been bombarded with such a dense and constant stream of information. I believe that I’ve mentioned before in this space that scientists have discovered a few interesting things about this phenomenon. The most obvious is that technology has begun to erode our memories—with the ability to access phone numbers, birthdays and facts with a little typing, clicking and button-pushing, we are slowly abandoning our efforts to retain this data. Meanwhile, scientists are also finding that the Internet has helped fine-tune our ability to discern reliable information from that which is less credible.
To complicate matters, the information we receive is so headline-oriented, so remarkably un-thorough, and so sensationalized to compete for our attention that it’s like seeing a million shiny objects. It enters our brain in a fragmented stream—where it’s either forgotten, contorted or compartmentalized. And unlike our computers, the human brain cannot be “defragmented.”
It comes from everywhere—your favorite online news site, your Facebook news feed, the blogs you frequent, and the search engine you use. It even comes from cable news tickers and animated traffic signs and billboards. It begins with your morning cup of coffee, and is relentless until you crawl into bed at night.
One recent morning, I found myself paying closer attention to this phenomenon than I normally do. An elephant had been given a prosthetic leg, Condoleezza Rice copped to disappointing George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina, and migrant farm workers battled against bedbugs. Alicia Keys’ Black Ball had raised more than $3 million for children with AIDS, and I received a helpful e-mail from WebMD informing me of ways to identify a urinary tract infection.
An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier was about to fly past Earth, and astronomers were excited. Scientists had discovered that walking through doorways negatively impacted our memory—which explains why you can’t remember what you’re looking for when you’re wandering through your house. A gun-toting woman dressed as a clown had robbed a fast-food restaurant in Cincinnati, and was still on the loose, and Angry Birds had sold 500 million copies, making it the best-selling video game in history.
In a recent survey, 10 percent of respondents admitted they change their clocks the wrong way for Daylight Savings Time. The cost of owning a dog had increased 47 percent. (Cats had become 73 percent more expensive.) Fewer people are having affairs, but more people are getting caught. And a Chicago man suffering from chest pains died after trying to remove his own pacemaker.
Meanwhile, a man in Spain got more than he bargained for while trying to use an ATM machine, when a viper emerged from the cash slot. A British man killed his wife after she smashed his collection of Star Wars toys. Salman Rushdie took to Twitter to share his limerick about Kim Kardashian’s divorce, and more than one in seven Americans are now on food stamps.
A Catholic newspaper in Boston retracted an essay claiming that the devil makes people gay, and a California medical company announced that it had developed technology to turn your brown eyes blue. A 16-foot python was killed in Florida, and inside it they found a 76-pound, undigested deer. And the guitarist for heavy metal band GWAR was found dead on the band’s tour bus.
Chances are, you won’t remember most of this stuff in three weeks. Luckily, you aren’t really expected to. But this weekend, maybe it would be nice to “unplug,” and try to avoid most of the chatter. If the weather’s nice, get out of the house for a while. Or stay in and dive into a good book, allowing the story to slowly unfold.
Slow down, and enjoy life.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 11/10/2011.
© Damien Willis, 2011. All rights reserved.