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Information is over-rated

I know it’s the information age, yet I declare that information is over-rated and that Google is a show stopper. Information in abundance seems like an unconditionally good thing, but I’m not buying it. Our knee-jerk efforts to seek and provide information often shut down conversations and cheapen relationships. Here are three examples.

I was in the back of the crowd at a music festival. Just arrived. A blues band was killin it on the stage. I texted my friends in the crowd with a photo of the band: “Just got here. Who’s that on the East Stage? Wow!” A response came immediately with a link to the schedule. And then no other comments. I know, technically, they were providing the information I sought. But of course I could have looked up the schedule! What I wanted was CONVERSATION about the band, and to connect – in conversation – with others in the crowd.

I was in a text conversation and my conversation partner mentioned TTPD. “What’s TTPD?” I asked. “Google it” came the swift response. Good information, of course. But at that moment I didn’t want a research detour. I was in the middle of a conversation. I wanted to hear HER explanation about that – so much more interesting than what the internet would tell me – and then I could reply back. About what she said.

I was trying to engage with a high school kid. “So who are your favorite teachers?” I asked. His dad immediately stepped in with the answer. But honestly, I cared way less about the actual information than how the kid would answer the question. I was trying to make conversation, not get information.

Easily accessible information often short-cuts the art of conversation. What’s really interesting in a conversation is the struggle with the hard questions; when the answer is actually not immediate. And a shared struggle – a conversation around something we’re both questioning – brings us together. Many times in a conversation I don’t actually want the factual answer to the question I’m asking you, I want to see how you answer it. I want to talk with you about it. Usually the last thing I want is to bring in a factual authority to stop the debate. It’s the debate that I’m here for.

Just like capitalism has wired us to seek convenience over quality, capitalism also wants us to seek information over conversation. We have been programmed by advertisers to want the most convenient thing rather than the thing that might provide a richer experience. And similarly, we are being programmed to seek information though a screen rather than conversation with a friend or neighbor. Why? As an advertiser, if I can turn your attention away from your friend and to a screen, then while you’re there I can sell you stuff.

As an advertiser, I want to actually interrupt your conversation with your friend or neighbor and say “Hey, over here!” Advertisers want us to leave multi-dimensional conversational experiences for two dimensional consumer experiences. They want us to learn things by watching YouTube rather than by asking our neighbors. They want us to buy stuff, or at least look at stuff and consider buying it.

In most conversations between actual people, no money is exchanged. No eyeballs are counted. Capitalism devalues our direct conversations with each other because advertisers are cut out of such conversations. There’s nothing to count here. Capitalism only values things that can be counted. It’s called dollar value.

Of course capitalism has its merits. So does information. Today’s abundance of information is a great gift in many, many ways. I’m just saying that the pendulum towards instant information has gone too far and is being over-exploited by capitalists. Instant information is not always the free gift it pretends to be. We are being seduced from textured connections with each other to flat connections with screens. It’s affecting the quality of our relationships, our sense of belonging, and our ability to make good group decisions.

I suppose this is a caution, a warning, a fear spoken aloud. And this is a reminder to myself: that it’s okay to stay in conversation and resist turning to a website, even when I don’t know it all.


PS. I actually do know what TTPD is. I know it all too well. And if you wanna talk about it, send me a note!


3 thoughts on “Information is over-rated

  1. Appreciate the article. I’ve been making the same point about shopping. With the ability to buy almost everything online, everyone is making fewer trips to the store. It’s not the shopping, per se, that is important. It is the interactions with others while shopping and most important, the random meeting that develops into something more that is happening less and less. It used to be a regular thing to hear someone say, “Guess who I bumped into at the store?” I haven’t said that or heard someone else say that in years!

  2. While I agree with everything you’ve said, I feel the need to make the point that facts (and truth) DO matter. Besides being lured to the convenient, we have also become gullible consumers of misleading or even boldly untruthful information. Yes, conversation and human connection matter, and so does truth

  3. So true. How often have I said, “Please don’t look it up, it’s okay just to talk.” And some things should just remain a mystery.

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