Humans have feared the rise of machines since the 19th century, when textile workers known as the Luddites smashed the mechanical looms they thought would replace them.
Yes, machines have been replacing human workers for a very long time. Until recently it was manual laborers who had to worry about losing their jobs at factory or farm due to technological progress: robots can do many things humans can’t, more efficiently – and without complaint.
My mother’s address book is one of the small visual details of my childhood that I can perfectly conjure, although I am sure no photograph of it exists. Fake-leather-bound, filled with her formal, spidery script, it was, to me, barely legible, with addresses crossed out and replaced with new ones as friends’ lives shifted. I often was dispatched to grab it for her from a kitchen drawer. I knew when she was looking for someone’s phone number, which seems unremarkable, except that my own children do not know when I am searching for a phone number, because all they see is me, on my iPhone, intently focused on something mysterious and decidedly not them.
Founded in 1991, Noorderlicht is one of the more experienced heads of the European photography scene. The Dutch festival has a decidedly ‘current’ scope, aiming to address social discussions and processes as they play out. Growing out of the Noorderlicht Photogallery in Groningen, for the festival, “photography is a socially inspired medium” and this year’s main theme is as rich as it is relevant: ‘Data Rush.’
Several years ago, while observing a parenting group in Minnesota, I was struck by a confession one of the women made to her peers: She didn’t really care that her husband did the dishes after dinner. Sure, it was swell of him, and she had friends whose husbands did less. But what she really wanted, at that point in her day, was for her husband to volunteer to put the kids to bed. She would have been glad to sit in the kitchen on her own for a few minutes with the water running and her mind wandering. Another woman chimed in: “Totally. The dishes don’t talk back to you.”
More than 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler unleashed the book Future Shock on the United States. In it, he used the term “information overload” to refer to the disoriented reaction experienced by people when they feel overwhelmed by constant technological churn. Summed up, his thesis is that technology is developing faster and faster — and faster than people can respond to it, leaving them anxious and befuddled.
Companies are trying to reduce digital distraction in order to help employees stay focused, according to a story in this Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.
Many of the efforts lift productivity; research group Basex estimated that information overload and resulting distraction led to $1 trillion in lost productivity in 2010. (The data accounted for time spent managing email and other content and the lengthy recovery time once a worker is sidetracked).
Advances in information technology and the proliferation of open networks are having a profound impact on the world, ranging from transforming communication and commercial marketing practices to enabling political change.
A prominent researcher writes “information overload is a problem of the times.” What’s causing that overload?
“At present in the world there are about 55,000 scientific journals publishing about 1,200,000 articles a year. Also about 60,000 books and 100,000 other research reports are issued annually . The sheer physical bulk of scientific and technical publications appearing in the United States has doubled approximately every 20 years since 1800.”
‘Drinking from the firehose’ is a turn of phrase you might not be familiar with. But believe me, if you are reading this blog and many others like this, it’s exactly what you are doing every day. It’s not water you are trying to gulp down, but a torrent of information. Information overload is the more precise term. Also, I am pretty sure you are drowning. Digital information and information overload are the Yin and Yang of our present age.