You say 'arrogant elitist technocrat' like it's a bad thing!

But I Suffer From Attention Surplus Disorder

Date/Time Permalink: 02/13/11 12:48:55 pm
Category: General

Now, here is the once-in-a-purple-moon case where I can point to somebody doing it right. TechRights dares to commit the act of intellectual terrorism that is having an original thought, and asks, "What If The Real Problem Is Information Underload?" Pointing out that as much as we complain about the information age overloading us, it actually saves us from having to find everything out ourselves.

The example they give is a farmer from decades ago, who had to know how to manage the hands, diagnose the livestock, and figure out the weather. Today he'd run the payroll through his PDA software, look up his horse's symptoms on a site like "," and of course his Firefox plug-in gives the weather report. Sure, this is a good point, and I could even go on with more examples.

Hey, remember paper road maps? Now your GPS system is clipped on your sun-visor, giving you the directions turn by turn until it steers you confidently into a fruit stand. But before, you had to know your way through a Thomas guide, and especially you had to develop a whole little literacy regarding map legends. You'd have to know that the gray trapezoid was a dam and the black square was a dump. Map-reading wasn't even considered a skill. Now when I see a GPS system, if I make the tiniest comment about the 3D rendering, I get shocked gasps - I must be a wizard! How did I know that?

The supposed Information Age really just increases the speed and availability of information, not the volume. We had to know just as much before the computer revolution; it just took longer to find it out.

Now Then
YouTube drive-in movie theaters
text messaging 1-900 phone party lines
Craigslist newspaper classifieds
blogs newspaper columns, 'opinion' sections
blog comments letters to the editor
pr0n adult magazines, bookstores, etc.
game consoles video game arcades

And before we had cybersex, we had phone sex, and before that, we had sex through the mail. It was very slow, particularly in the days of Pony Express, but it was a small price to pay for an orgasm that lasted months.

See, even post-Information Age, we see the cognitive effect leaning towards the deficit rather than a surplus. For instance, I just typed out that little table up there in HTML tags, without even thinking. That was a grade-school skill 12 years ago. Today, it is absolutely lost to the WYSIWYG editor.

Now granted, I could replace knowing HTML tags with using a WYSIWYG editor more and then join the crowd of people bitching about the information overload of having to know how to use an editor, but then I have the cognitive tax of dealing with the screwed-up editor. Seriously, I have yet to meet the GUI web-document editor that doesn't vomit all over itself. I want minimalist code tags. All WYSIWYG editors today assume that you're composing a complete web page. They still haven't gotten the news that there's this invention called a blog, where you just type normal word-processing text most of the time with the occasional tag for formatting. But yes, if I didn't care about getting the tags just right, I'd be using a WYSIWYG editor and posting just any old slop, content to know less.

Anybody looking over my shoulder and seeing me type HTML tags these days is likely to make a comment like "Why are you typing that junk?" They're HTML tags. "What's an HTML tag?" They've never seen one. Ooooooh, so that's what the little pointy parenthesis on the keyboard are for! Every time, like clockwork. It makes people nervous and edgy around me. I'm a witch; I type HTML tags.

Yeah, Google and Wikipedia, every month there's this new article about how they're making us dumb. No, they have just replaced this process:

  1. Go to library
  2. Go to the card catalog room
  3. Look up the keyword for the topic you want
  4. Write down several call numbers for those book titles - stubby golf score pencils and index cards!
  5. Find the books on the shelf
  6. Open them up and as likely as not, flip to the index in the back
  7. Again, look in the index for the keywords you want
  8. Finally turn to the page number from the index and read that piece of information!

I used to do all that and think nothing of it. Today, I use two advanced search operators typing the query into Google, and once again I'm a black-arts sorcerer. Nobody else knows these things. They come running to me for help with asking Google a question. I am the oracle. For knowing how to type a word with a colon after it.

No, the problem isn't information overload. The problem is that people expect to not have to learn any information at all.

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