We lived history this week. The Palestinian Authority, precursor to a government of Palestine, requested membership in the United Nations. We may have glanced at it in the papers, perhaps saw it as a Yahoo News panel, or listenedto or watched some commentary or interviews about it. What I wonder is how many of us outside of Israel and the West Bank understood its significance? President Abbas’s address to the General Assembly hasn’t been the only history we lived this week, this year, or even this decade. But outside of 9/11 and perhaps the election of Barack Obama as President, events don’t seem to stick to the ribs anymore.
What hath cable news and the Internet wrought? Are we exposed to too much news (and not such newsworthy reporting) too often and too rapidly? Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel seem to think so. In Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, Kovach and Rosenstiel introduce us to the concept that we need to become our own editors if we are to make sense of the flood of news and information available to us today. In their words:
The real information gap in the 21st century is not who has access to the Internet and who does not. It is the gap between people who have the skills to create knowledge and those who are simply in a process of affirming preconceptions without growing and learning.
By its very expansiveness and pace, both the news and information in general readily overwhelm us. It isn’t necessarily numbing, but I find myself engaging in information triage everyday, so I don’t become info-numbed. Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, has written that his research indicates our brains are just not “hardwired” enough to absorb and process the quantity of information they’re subject too. His work, The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory provides (very academically) the data and research used to reach that conclusion and some steps that can be taken to improve memory performance in light of both the volume of information we seek to assimilate, and age.
Going back to my premise about the news, coupled with absorbing it all—or not—is the additional task of prioritizing it. In the same week that Abu Mazen spoke to the UN, the US Congress failed to pass another interim spending bill, Moammar Quaddafi was or wasn’t in exile, nine Republican presidential hopefuls debated in Florida (Orlando no less, but I won’t go there,) and Overdrive announced that Kindle compatible e-books would now be available at public libraries. How do you rank these in importance and impact?
Finally, there is the crossover effect into the worlds of work and study, perhaps even into family life. If it’s hard to assimilate it all, how much harder is it to organize and make sense of it, in order to make decisions? That itself is a stand-alone subject. For our sakes, we need to be able to distinguish what is important from the 2nd and 3rd tier news/information without self-imploding or excessive hair pulling.