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Perspectives on information overload

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Rachael Sullivan

on 3 September 2013

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Transcript of Perspectives on information overload

Perspectives on information overload
While the syllabus goes more or less in chronological order, grouping authors based on their perspectives reveals connections and dialogues.
New modes of creativity
Walter Benjamin, "The Storyteller" (1936)
"Every morning brings us news from across the globe, yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. [...] by now almost nothing happens that benefits storytelling. Almost everything benefits information" (149).
Victor Hugo, "This Will Kill That" (1831)
"In its printed form, thought is more imperishable than ever; it is volatile, irresistible, indestructible. It is mingled with the air. In the days of architecture it made a mountain of itself, [but] now it converts itself into a flock of birds, scatters itself to the four winds, and occupies all points of air and space at once."
Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think" (1945)
"[...] publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make use of the record. The means we use for threading through the maze is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships" (38).
Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel" (1941)
"The certitude that some shelf in some hexagon held precious books and that these precious books were inaccessible, seemed almost intolerable" (55).
Gertrude Stein, _The Making of Americans_ (1906-08)
Trying to cope
"After all description is explanation, and if I went on and on and on enough I could describe every individual human being that could possibly exist. I did proceed to do as much as I could" ("The Gradual Making" 246).
Epic collapse
E.M. Forster, "The Machine Stops" (1909)
"She whirled around, praying to be saved from this, at any rate, kissing the Book, pressing button after button. The uproar outside was increasing" (138).
Borges, "Funes the Memorious" (1942)
"It was very difficult for him to sleep. To sleep is to turn one's mind from the world. Funes, lying on his back on his cot in the shadows, could imagine every crevice and every molding in the sharply defined houses surrounding him" (66).
Andrew Foster Altschul, "The Future's Not Ours to See" (2005)
"He contemplated that the tone likely contained some kind of information. He tried to understand what that information was" (82).
Sensory overload
"Sensory overload" is the likely origin of "information overload." In the 1950s, sensory overload was seen as a psychological condition resulting from overstimulation. In the 60s, the phrase was linked with drug use.
Walt Whitman, _Leaves of Grass_ (1881)
My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.

[Speech] provokes me forever, it says sarcastically,
Walt you contain enough, why don't you let it out then? ("Song of Myself" section 25)
Neil Postman, "Informing Ourselves to Death" (1990)
"We have directed all of our energies and intelligence to inventing machinery that does nothing but increase the supply of information. As a consequence, our defenses against information glut have broken down."
Bruce Sterling, "Maneki Neko," 1998
"Thousands and thousands of email messages. All of them pictures of cats. A denial-of-service attack!" (15).
Kenneth Goldsmith, _Uncreative Writing_ (2011)
"Where once narrative promised to deliver you to a final resting place, the Web's blizzard of language now obfuscates and entangles you in a thicket of words" (219).
Misinformation overload
The phrase "information overload" is usually attributed to Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book _Future Shock_. For Toffler, info overload is similar to sensory overload: the info "exceeds our channel capacity."
Thomas Pynchon, "Entropy" (1959)
"Ambiguity. Redundance. Irrelevance, even. Leakage. All this is noise. Noise screws up your signal, makes for disorganization in the circuit."
Don DeLillo, _White Noise_ (1985)
"I stood inside the room, sensing things, noting the room tone, the dense air. Information rushed toward me, rushed slowly, incrementally" (280).
Borges, "The Aleph" (1945)
"In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them amazed me than the fact that all of them occupied the same point in space" (26).
Some authors document media change, while others dramatize it.
Noticing changes
"An elixir not of memory, but of reminding."
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