Editor's Note: This is an old post from my previous blog. I'm on vacation this week, so this is what you're getting. Next week, probably something about "Comical Ali" or maybe Facebook.
I'm taking as a source this article from Edge regarding human behavior in the Information Age. In it, our information consumption is compared with food consumption, and later, the survival of ideas is related to the survival of species via natural selection. Combining these two ideas, we arrive at the concept that information must be consumed in order to propagate, making ideas not like animal meat, but like vegetable matter. Vegetables and fruits that grow quickly, yield a lot of nutritive value, and taste good are more likely than their competitors to thrive in the world of herbivores, as their seeds are more likely to be spread, and they are more likely to be cultivated. Unfortunately, the web is like a field of jellybean plants--magical, yes, but unfulfilling and likely to give you a stomachache.
We need to "eat" better content because it makes us feel better, and is good for our development.
It's very clear that when we surf the web, we use energy. In order to look, read, learn, link, tweet, embed, and digg, we make our little cells do something, which depletes our store in some way or another, and uses our time--eating information, like any other consumer activity, comes at a cost. Massive cognitive load can cause errors in our learning, and there are other, more nebulous results of our purposeful information overload. Particularly relevant is this man's experience, echoed by millions of users of the blogotubes, but there is also research that implicates the very nature of the web in dangerous behavior.
Of course, there are benefits from our newfound infobounty. One study shows that googling may make you smarter, in some ways. Less esoteric is the benefit of simply having access to people and information that otherwise were forever out of reach. We can be more informed voters, wiser parents, better employees and students, and generally more knowlegeable people.
Unfortunately, when given this phenomenal power, we use it to further our own inanity, as we have every other medium. In this there is no great harm--a little pointless timewasting never hurt anyone. But, whether it's its novelty or some heretofore unknown power inherent in information, the internet is as interesting, or more, than television. Thankfully, it is also more modular, with content in smaller pieces, and so more decision-making is involved in our consumption. We can choose to discern the crap from the useful information, or we can choose to consume without thought, eating information like we eat food--inverting the pyramid and indulging in candy while dabbling in wholesome content.
That being said, it's not wrong to eat candy. It's not wrong to haz your occasional cheezburger. All content--except some particularly repulsive stuff, which happens to inhabit a large percentage of the extant web--has its place, but if cartoons were more occasional, and important information were more frequent, progress' clip would increase.
It is essential to note that I will say nothing of what is or is not Important Content. That is for each of us to decide. It must be intentionally sought, even if the seeds of this interest were randomly sown.
We need to "eat" better content because it spurs the creation of more quality content.
Further, in this world of meta-searching, self-analyzing, and ad-targeting, the viewer is, in fact king. It would be wise not to underestimate one's power in this world, as the link, the digg, the tweet, etc, are ways to propagate approval quickly and efficiently. The internet has built itself a very efficient feedback system.
Spread links to interesting information. Post interesting content. Eat right, and the whole world will be a better place.