Last night while sitting at a pub with some friends, the topic of information came up. My friend Tom, in particular, had a few interesting things to say about it. I asked him if he thought that constantly being tapped into the stream of information that the online world affords us was bad thing. Is our constant connection to blog posts, news articles, video, podcasts, Twitter, and Facebook more detrimental than positive? Are we a culture of information junkies?
His response, essentially was “no”. He basically said that in fact (and I’m paraphrasing) we have always been able to tap into information whenever we wanted to. Back in the old days, Tom said he used to scour through encyclopedias, magazines, and books all day long. He was always consuming information and learning new things. I thought back to my younger days and realized I did much the same. You probably did too. The difference is, said Tom, these days information is with us wherever we go. We carry the encyclopedia, and magazines, and book in our pockets. Information is always there, on any topic. It’s an amazing thing, said Tom, and it’s a good thing.
Back in the old days I owned more books a 9 years old than all of my close friends and their parents put together. I had read every novel more than once. Around a sixth of my books were science and history, which were often partially re-read, often as a result of looking for something specific to get proof of something. It could have been something novel that needed understanding. It could have been a claim by someone else. It probably did not help that from seven to ten years old, I spent a couple hours every week day after school at the library.
Later, as a teen when I played Dungeons and Dragons, I knew my books well enough I could open a book to within a few pages of the information I wanted. Of course, I replaced my Player’s Guide and Dungeon Master’s Handbook three times when they fell apart from overuse.
As a college student, I worked in the university library. It had a larger and much more stimulating collection of journals, books, maps, microfilm, and microfiche than the public library of my childhood. Some thought me a dedicated worker. Ha! Having unfettered access to information was the best form of entertainment.
Only working with computer systems and the Internet, so more information could tear me away from the libraries.
But am I an information junkie? Oh, yeah, absolutely. Finding that kernel of information that answers a question, solves a problem, or wins an argument causes a surge of dopamine. People get the same dopamine high from winning a game.
The delayed gratification of waiting to search my or another library or waiting until I got to a computer to search the Internet was probably a good thing. I’m learning to be better about not whipping out my phone to track down every possible query that comes across my head. Probably a good thing to wait.