We are young and greedy, we want to know everything. Our brains know no limits. In our save little world, with our technology, everything is possible. Whether it is guitar tabs, live-streams of people fighting for their lives in other countries or just the newest of your university lectures – you want it, you get it. On demand, wherever, whenever. Endless possibilities.
You swear to yourself to become the best possible version of yourself, read everything, know everything. You will to catch up on everything that happens in your country, in the world, and know what your friends do at every waking moment. Finding new friends, learning all the languages and knowing every cultural offence is only one click away. Knowing every classic novel and the best quotes ever said is easy as cake. Never will you fail to know the answers to crossword puzzles. Just jump in and dive away in the endless strings of ones and zeros, let them fill your brains until they are soaked in information.
But information is a whore. There is so much of it out there. Soon you might feel like you’re drowning, trying to put on a life vest of yoga and relaxing tea sessions. But you cannot stop the incredible stream. And soon you are caught in a state of floating between filtering all that you receive and the unquenchable thirst that’s still somewhere inside you.
You realize that endless possibilities have their downsides. You are supposed to be a homo economicus, the perfect human scale. Weighing all the input the world throws at you, using these experiences to reflect upon the little stories you live – maximizing what you get out of every decision, exploiting every minute you have on this planet.
But all that reflecting upon what your possibilities are (spoiler alert, they are endless) makes you incapable of acting. The knowledge of how small you are, how little you might be able to gather in your even tinier brain paralyzes you.
This phenomenon has been given the name Narcotizing dysfunction of knowledge by Robert Merton and Paul Lazarsfeld. The concept is as disappointing as it is visible. Disappointing because knowledge isn’t negative. Knowledge is like calorie-free ice cream, there is nothing bad about it, no regrets. It is the only real-life superpower you are able to actually actively acquire.
For an increasingly nonreligious generation, we usually replace holiness by information. Instead of church, we read our newspaper. Instead of praying, we check the newest tweets and facebook updates. But there are too many gods out there, too many controversial views. We are just not capable of getting an even nearly satisfying overview over all of the smart utterances made by politicians, gurus and friends.
We need to cut something away and thereby lose balance again. Either we’re unsocial, politically apathetic or die from burnout before we reach our thirties. Who has got the time and energy to become a full package nowadays?
This situation is so new that we all experience it with little to no warning. People who are supposed to introduce us to the data highway mostly know way less than we already do. And I’m more than worried that I might end up the same way. I will be, and I already am surpassed by younger early adopters. They have the better gadgets, they know how to get the information they need even quicker. The information jealousy that our parents feel towards us might overthrow our enthusiasm for the hottest news. But the cycle will repeat. And their dreams are finally crushed just like ours, the oasis of knowledge turned out to be no more than a Fata Morgana. The sweet drops of data left our mouths drier than they have been before.
But the right dose of information undoubtedly makes us smarter. We learn to acknowledge that the internet is like Pandora’s Box and delivers information in disorder, alongside with distraction and devastation. Nonetheless, let’s not fail to see Hope.
Let us realize what the generations before us have learnt, what the coming ones will have to learn. We cannot know everything and we are not so unique in that.