is caused by the "ever widening
gap between what we understand and what
we think we should understand"
(according to Saul Wurman, who
coined the term). But what makes us think
we "should" understand anything?
There are two common notions about "being
informed": i) it's
irresponsible not to be, and
ii) it's unsafe
not to be. In other words,
social consensus (which defines "irresponsible")
and basic survival anxieties (which define
"unsafe") lead to information
anxiety so it perhaps shouldn't
be underestimated as a social influence.
Most people probably feel Oprahfied
to some extent ie pressured to
have opinions on everything the media
defines as important. And they fear falling
behind. (According to a report in the
nearly half the population have this fear).
This is possibly due to good marketing
the advertisers' constant drip,
drip of things you "should"
know about is intended to induce anxiety,
so you spend money to relieve it. (A major
UK company's marketing chief once admitted
to me that his profession was concerned
entirely with stimulating consumer fear
As a selling strategy, "fear of
being left out" has no limits when
applied to media (entertainment/information-based)
products. There's a limit to how many
cars you need, but there's no limit to
what you "should" know about.
The info-anxiety theory recommends that
we find more effective ways to process
information, so we can absorb more
without being overwhelmed. A better approach,
however, might be to simply filter out
the 99.9% of information that serves no
purpose for you.
How much "information" consists
of people making noises to avoid listening
to themselves think? Media personalities
tend not to be quietly reflective. The
over-representation of "loud"
personalities on TV no doubt contributes
to the increasingly accepted notion that
"quiet introspection" is a mental
illness. Peaceful isolation from extroversion
and media noise seems like a difficult
commodity to find.
Fortunately, you don't need a cave to
escape to you can take a holiday
from info-noise without going anywhere,
simply by changing a few parameters of
your mental processes. This technique
has existed in various forms for centuries
used by "eccentrics"
who wanted to revive their faculty of
thinking, as opposed to having
people's thoughts (ie reflection rather
than verbal loops). Side effects included
improved imagination and weirder dreams:
For a set period (eg
1 or 2 weeks), completely avoid TV, newspapers,
magazines, radio, browsing in newsagents,
topical chatter etc. This is done by refusing
such stimuli any admittance to your mind.
Mass-media "information" appears
(to us) as mostly non-useful, vaguely
entertaining distraction. Of the non-trivial,
non-amusement content (eg some of "The
News"), most concerns things
you're powerless to influence. (Conversely,
the issues you might influence seem notably
absent from "The News").
Why clutter your brain with things you
can do nothing about? How can it be irresponsible
or unsafe to ignore it, if it's
of no use to you?