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The Daily Paradox

The Daily Paradox: To know or not to know?

Information overload is as big a problem for the mind as overweight is for the body.

A reader of the Daily Paradox article ‘How can we help?’ (12Mar24) points out that we are combating too much information for both our jobs and our domestic lives. What I had said is that whoever we are, we can make a contribution towards stopping the rush to World War III by vociferously letting those in power know that we are against any such stupidity. ‘We cannot possibly handle all the information available ’ my correspondent said, ‘so how can we digest what we need to know to make judgments about the world’s politics?’

Information overload is already a hot topic. It will get even hotter as AI multiplies the output to many times anything we can imagine now. How much can we handle and what is the best way to do so? To answer this I break the question into three parts. First, our duties are to survive, to support our family and to live our lives so that we enjoy them without giving other people hell. We need information to handle this. With kindly advisors rapidly disappearing, we need to handle the process of life calmly and efficiently. We must understand how to use apps and systems that are not familiar to us or that change frequently.

Second, information about our jobs is key to keeping them. In the past this has come from the boss (if you had a good one) and from your colleagues (if they were cooperative) and from training sessions (if they were comprehensible). These sources still exist but their nature is changing. Bosses are often physically or emotionally remote. Colleagues make big contributions to useful communications about your work but in a sharply competitive world they clearly look after their own interests first.

Third, good training can fill the gap in our knowledge about the world and advance our learning and thinking. This will often be suggested by our parents and our employers. We should still adopt a personal training programme and it must include more than the technical and skills training we are most familiar with. Knowing about ourselves is still an area of mystery and, sometimes, fear and superstition that needs major improvement.

How much information can we then absorb about the world in general? Do we need to be interested in world politics – after all, there is very little we can do about it, isn’t there? It was on this point that I wrote my earlier article. It has been shown many times that any regime, however authoritarian, depends on the agreement of the citizens encompassed by it to allow it to happen. Political systems that don’t permit dissent collapse in the end but the pain on the journey to reform may be considerable.

Democracy is designed to encourage everyone to have a say in how society is run. We all have different levels of intelligence and different priorities for our lives. A good society acknowledges these facts and equips itself to satisfy, as far as reasonably possible, the wishes of the majority. An outstanding society does more than that. It also looks after those who think differently from the majority. Thus it acknowledges the rights of each individual. The price we pay for having our rights recognised and catered for is our participation in society.

We cannot be expected to have an educated view of everything that is happening in the world. We can, however, choose areas of interest beyond ourselves in which to keep reasonably informed and to add our considered thoughts to the debate on how they should best be handled. Perpetual education is available now and we have every opportunity to learn enough for an informed point of view.

Is this purely an option – something we can do if we feel like it or ignore if we don’t?

With the future of humanity at stake and the resources deployed on our behalf I don’t think it is as simple as that. Every benefit brings with it an obligation to contribute at the very least our thoughts on the way we are managed. Complaining when things go wrong is of little use if you don’t have a say in advance about what would make them go right.

Telling people how they must live is to some extent inevitable in a crowded planet but we need to preserve their right to think and say and vote how they like. They in turn must equip themselves to make a reasonable and measured contribution. Information overload requires more thinking than we at present seem prepared to devote to it.

Be a contributor to the future of our species.

Future generations will thank you for it.

Good morning
John Bittleston

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16 March 2024