Does too much constant incoming content = dangerous, or damaging somehow?
April 25, 2009 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Can you think of any recent writing, or art, about it being somehow intellectually damaging, or spiritually dangerous, or in any other way harmful to constantly be plugged into content, particularly via an ipod or some other mp3 player?

Have you ever gotten into a state where you have your ipod available whenever you are, say, exercising, or going for a walk, or on a subway - really, any kind of stasis made use of such a background-filler, listening to podcasts, audiobooks, music, etc.? And then you inevitably have headphones on when you're on the computer, whether it's to block out distractions, or for its own sake? And if headphones aren't the carrying agent, there's some other way you always have *something* in front of you, some fount of content, be it the computer in front of you or the book in your knapsack? (Though, if I'm being honest with myself, for me it's more often electronically-based than not.)

I've been thinking about this lately, how I will sometimes live like this for a bit, but eventually feel a kind of nausea growing in me and have to take the headphones off, have to remove the informational source...and yet I'll sheepishly admit that sometimes I delay even this.

And it's got me to wondering - surely people have written about this in some way, about it somehow being a danger to constantly be receiving content, rather than in just taking part in neutral, unmediated experience, or creating content yourself? Surely there must be some neuroscience-based case that this is unhealthy, or some sociological polemic someone wrote against this phenomenon, or some case that it's spiritually draining? And yet the closest thing I can think of to this offhand is a passage in A.J. Jacobs' book The Know-It-All, an account of a year spent reading the Encyclopedia Britannica in its entirety that I read a while back, where a Buddhist friend warns that the author that his undertaking might truly warp his mind. (This isn't, as far as I remember, ever explicated, so I have no idea if he's citing some piece of Buddhist thinking on memorization, or monkey mind, or something else entirely.)

This need not even be a modern question; someone 20 years ago who finished a book and immediately put pick up another without a moment's reflection might be guilty of the same, not to mention getting ready in the morning with the public/talk-radio on, etc. But it seems more probable in an age where you can have many GB of information loaded up on your ipod or whatever other device at all times, and somehow I feel like I want to read more about this issue - I just don't know where to look.
posted by Ash3000 to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe not quite what you are looking for, but the recent incarnation of Dr Who has dealt with this recently, with the Satellite 5 (I think) stuff and also an episode with evil cell phones. My memory's shoddy at the moment so maybe somebody else can fill in but as I recall it has been a recurring theme at least through parts of the David Tennant run.
posted by synecdoche at 6:58 PM on April 25, 2009

i once listened to "pink floyd: the wall" pretty much non-stop (during my waking hours) for about two weeks. (we had it on an 8 track in the office and i was listening on my autoreversing-cassette-tape walkman the rest of the time)

i got kind of depressed by the end of the two weeks.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:08 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Neil Postman wrote copiously on what he perceived to be the damage wrought to public discourse by electronic media, and most of what he wrote preceded the Internet age by several years. Amusing Ourselves to Death is probably his most well-known work.

On a much lighter lote, some people interpret the movie Cloverfield to be a metaphor for the narcissistic iPod and cell-phone-toting generation's inability to cope with real-life problems (see here, for example).
posted by hiteleven at 7:36 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try googling for "information overload", for example here's a good find: managing io
posted by rainy at 7:42 PM on April 25, 2009

Feed by M. T. Anderson. (It's a novel, but definitely takes off from this idea).
posted by lampoil at 7:48 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Michael Bull has written books on portable music player use in the urban setting that might be worth checking out.
posted by umbĂș at 8:00 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eckhart Tolle seems to be making a splash in the past few years (Youtube withOprah) for the spiritual case against having our minds incessantly running like a hamster wheel, whether they're processing macro- or micro-information (in any format, audio or whatever), narrating the minutiae of what's happening, fretting about the future or fantasizing about the past. His coaching is aimed at being able to turn all that off, and achieve mental stillness, a quiet mind.

It's not much different from what meditation gurus have been saying for ages. I have problems with some of his tenets, but overall his ideas and how he presents them have really helped me and several friends move forward from dysfunctional mental and behavioural patterns. As we've experienced it, the hamster-wheel mind problem easily manifests in negative, or at best, repetitive thoughts (about self, spouse, other relationships, whatever) endlessly, relentlessly cycling. Being able to take a break from the restless mind, just to be and breathe, feels good. Not that I can do it for very long, yet.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2009

I am no expert but I recently blogged about the Art of Boredom, wherein I wrote about the positive-ness of "just being" without all the external output so that we can then be more in tune with creativity and inspiration.

email me if you would like to see what I wrote.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:39 PM on April 25, 2009

external output should be external input. sorry.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:41 PM on April 25, 2009

Actually, my blog entry was based on a Reader's Digest article:

"The Benefits of Boredom

Boredom's doldrums were unavoidable, yet also a primordial soup for some of life's most quintessentially human moments . . . . A long drive home after a frustrating day could force ruminations. A pang of homesickness at the start of a plane ride might put a journey in perspective.

"Increasingly, these empty moments are being saturated with productivity, communication, and the digital distractions offered by an ever-expanding array of slick mobile devices . . .

"But are we too busy twirling through the songs on our iPods -- while checking email, while changing lanes on the highway -- to consider whether we are giving up a good thing? We are most human when we feel dull. Lolling around in a state of restlessness is one of life's greatest luxuries -- one not available to creatures that spend all their time pursuing mere survival.

To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one.

It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe works. Granted, many people emerge from boredom feeling that they have accomplished nothing. But is accomplishment really the point of life? There is a strong argument that boredom -- so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness -- is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love."

"The Joy of Boredom," by Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Boston Globe taken from Reader's Digest, June 2008
posted by Sassyfras at 8:44 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

A bit off-topic, but "Infinite Jest", in the novel of the same name, is a film so entertaining that you can't stop watching it until you starve to death.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:28 PM on April 25, 2009

This might be an extreme example, but in David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest, one of the plots revolves around a dvd-esque "entertainment" so compelling and dangerous that it a) kills people by rendering them incapable of pulling themselves away from it and b) becomes a terrorist weapon due to its raw power.
posted by fiery.hogue at 9:31 PM on April 25, 2009

Along the lines of hiteleven's suggestion above, there's Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television. If I recall correctly, Postman kind of dismisses the Mander book as unrealistic, which made me wonder if he'd got past the title. I seem to recall Mander saying he didn't expect television to actually ever be eliminated, but that didn't mean there was no value in laying out the arguments. Also, I think Mander talked at length about neurological effects, which may be of interest to you in addition to the more macro societal issues.
[disclaimer - I read these books a long time ago!]
posted by zoinks at 10:53 PM on April 25, 2009

Not directly relevant, but when I saw rmd1023's repsonse I couldn't help but think of Bernard Herman's Taxi Driver theme. I really enjoy listening to that seedy New York jazz, but at the same time listening to it too often changes my perception of the world, gives it a more depressive, slightly unstable 'Travis Bickle' edge.

More related, I can only think of information overload, media overload, media dependence, distortion of reality etc as keywords but nothing great from google. I know exactly what you discribe, and if you find something that hits the nail on the head I'd be interested and grateful for an update. Sometimes when I am walking through town I take out my earbuds just to listen to the noise around me and to remind myself that I am still in the real world.
posted by atmosphere at 11:58 PM on April 25, 2009

Gen Goldacre in his Bad Science blog recently discussed the issue of whether use of online media affects us in the way various newspapers have been reporting, and found the link isn't made in the original study.
posted by paduasoy at 1:22 AM on April 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Although it predates the internet and iTunes, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 cautions against the dangers of tuning out of life/thinking/reading by tuning into TV. Here's an interview Bradbury gave about this subject.
posted by katie at 5:37 AM on April 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

ditto on fahrenheit 451. considering it was written in the 50s, it's creepily prescient.
posted by klanawa at 12:20 PM on April 26, 2009

« Older Replace my ReplayTV with a PC Card   |   Color in film Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.