Look at that picture above. Click on it to make it bigger. That’s my iTunes. As you can see, I listen to a LOT of podcasts. And no, this isn’t just a narcissistic moment to seem smart. You see all those blue numbers above each podcast? Well, those are just the episodes I haven’t listened to. Also notice the 320 iTunesU lectures that have also been neglected.
I’m starting to wonder if we have become more able to learn through audio and visuals, rather than writing. I think I have. Admittedly (and I hate admitting this), I have become so ADD when reading books. I become impatient, just wanting to absorb what I need to absorb and move right along to the next thing. I have become, (I fear) a mere consumer of non-stop information overload. In fact, I wonder if we all have.
Yes, I know; this idea is nothing new. For years, social critics and laypersons alike have been bemoaning our neglect of the written word and our near universal proclivity towards attempting to be jacks-of-all-trades and masters-of-none. I read a New York Times article last week talking about how our national security is in increasing jeopardy because of the lack of people that are specializing in “Nuclear Forensics” (being able to use the clues left after a nuclear explosion to figure out who set it off). Nuclear Forensics? Talk about a specified niche! How could the government possibly expect any of us to focus on just that? I mean, we have to learn all we can about politics, philosophy, religion, english, literature, technology, health, biology, and economics before we can get to “Nuclear Forensics”, right?.
Sarcasm aside, how should we think through this? The vast majority of human history has been based off of visual and oral sharing (and therefore auditory receiving) of thoughts, identity, culture, information, and rituals. Writing is a relatively late development. So though some may argue we are therefore regressing as a species; I wonder if we are actually merely “getting back to our roots”; perhaps becoming more “well-rounded” in our cultural digestion and development.
After all, it doesn’t appear that writing (and therefore visual intake) is going anywhere. Say what you want about e-books, but the statistics show that more people are reading books now than ever before (after a 50-year sharp decline). Further, more people are actually writing now than ever. Everyone seems to have the blog, novel, or article they are trying to write or keep up with. In fact, the market is so flooded, and therefore more books are competing against one another, that according to one report, about 80% of all books published this year will sell less than 99 copies. How depressing is that? (Okay, maybe it’s not that bad).
So perhaps, in the end, the problem will eventually not be information quantity, but information quality. We’re in this weird period of flux in our society where the curve has spiked, but we’re still waiting for the standard deviation to kick in; for Social Darwinism to accomplish its work and kill the weakest, bringing the best to the top. I just hope, in the meantime, we don’t become so fragmented as a society, culture, and world that we no longer hold enough of a common identity to have some sort of communal understanding of what quality even is.
And this is a real possibility, but I’m holding out in hope. Linguistic theory, including Speech-Act Theory, and my firm belief in an upcoming sweep of Critical Realism overtaking Postmodernity in Western culture allow me to believe that the very way we communicate and think about the world will not, indeed cannot, let us move to a point of complete breakdown of unshared meaning and interpretation. And who knows? In this time of “overload” it may even enhance our human growth and innovation. I really do believe that in the end, we love our human connection and communication too much to let them go entirely.
And this, I feel, is not because of something new, or something we’ve developed, or something merely pragmatic; but something that is in fact very old. I can’t help but believe our only hope in this will be because we are made in the Image of a connected and communicative God, who holds all of these wacky philosophical, sociological, cultural, and linguistic ideas in the palm of His gentle, all-knowing, providential hand. Oh, that we would find our rest in this!
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