iThink | The evolution of information chaos

By Owen Cammayo

You can probably blame it on information overload or big data as we call it now. It’s not a modern concept, if you ask me.

When humans first appeared on Earth, they were not intellectually equipped to write poems or love letters or business plans. They were busy trying to survive. They hunted, looked for shelter, watched out for enemies, and procreated.

You might think it was a simple life, but you would be mistaken. The cognitive demands of just living in those times would be great, considering brain size and the harsh living conditions. So what did they do to manage this information overload?

They invented the OG emoticons! The first kind of writing, something they call proto-writing, involved some representation of an animal or plant, most probably to identify food, because, you know, humans were trying to survive.

You probably know what they look like if you were paying attention in class. They looked like your common emoticons from smartphones that we conveniently use these days. Early humans invented this proto-writing because they wanted to manage information overload. They wanted to externalize their knowledge about animals and plants so that they can easily pass it on to their children, or help remember that pesky mushroom that killed a member of the tribe.

Eventually, after millennia of trying to cope with information or data overload, humans invented writing, which came about 5,000 years ago. We had better technology by that time. There were stone tablets, then parchment, which was way better in preserving knowledge.

Did that help us deal with information overload? Yes, indeed, but guess what, data just kept on piling up. Naturally, some people were not pleased. Some warned about the erosion of human memory and our ability to remember long poems and stories.

Egyptian kings, Greek philosophers, and even French intellectuals such as Descartes, were, in different periods of human history, complaining about the useless and confusing heap of information brought about by writing and books.

Today we have the TV, Netflix, radio, social media, podcasts, blogs, email, iPods, iPads, newspapers, and, even more books in print and online. All these are designed to help us keep up with information overload or more popularly known today as big data. We are externalizing all this information about things we need to remember and relationships we need to keep.

No wonder we are overwhelmed and distracted. Human attention is limited after all.

The sad thing about this is that some have resorted to shortcuts in thinking because of this glut of information. They allow others to do the thinking for themselves through memes, catchy Facebook posts, hasty conclusions about news stories, harebrained ideas of popular influencers who are unthinking themselves.

Yet I believe, amid all this chaos brought about by social media, we’ll get through this. Just like in the past, some have complained about the glut of useless writing and books. But did the world succumb to the “chaos” then?

We’re still here, obviously, and we are benefiting from this ability to create this surplus of data. We have learned to generate and organize information about science, philosophy, business, literature, politics and other fields of knowledge for our benefit. But are we harnessing the full potential of big data? I’m not so sure.

So what now? I believe that we will eventually find a way, whether through social media and other emerging technologies, to create and disseminate accurate and factual information that can provide a more positive impact for people, businesses, and nations. We have done it before.

The author is the head of corporate affairs and communications at BPI

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