Not Feeling “Information Overload” or “Loss of Identity”

I read about “loss of identity” and “information overload” the other day.

“…The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, … and the loss of identity….
“…Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, … the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload….”
(“Laudato si’,” 46-47; Pope Francis (2015))

“Information overload” is well on its way to becoming a cliche. Or cliché, for folks who like their English with a dash of diacritics, and that’s another topic.

I keep seeing warnings against “information overload,” the Internet’s “hive mind,” and suchlike threats. But I don’t feel overloaded, informationally or otherwise, even after being online for hours.

That gives me the task of deciding whether I react to “information overload” — and how I react, if I choose to do so.

Noise, Distractions and Me

When the Pope says or writes something that doesn’t line up with my opinions, my knee-jerk response is not to assume that I’m right, so the Pope must be wrong.

In this case, though, I don’t feel like I’m experiencing an information overload.

Maybe that’s because I like having a pretty good Internet connection. And because I grew up before Internet technology got out of the prototype stage.

I have fond memories of card catalogs and treks through library and archive stacks.

But I don’t yearn for the days when it might take weeks or months to track down an assertion’s source. From my viewpoint, I’ve finally got an interface that’s almost fast enough to feel comfortable.

That said, I think Pope Francis has a point: “…the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload….”

Online “noise and distractions” are very real.

I’ve gone chasing after elusive images or ideas often enough to understand the perilous allure of cat memes, Craigslist bargains and NFL scores.

Nuggets of Wisdom, Mountains of Gibberish

I’d probably be more concerned, if I didn’t know that we’ve been through this sort of thing before.

When Plato wrote “Phaedrus,” about two dozen centuries back, writing and reading was threatening the very foundations of society.

“…they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves….”
(Socrates, in Plato’s “Phaedrus;” Translated by Benjamin Jowett, via

I think Plato’s Socrates had a point.

“…this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth….”
(Socrates, in Plato’s “Phaedrus;” Translated by Benjamin Jowett, via

I’d probably be much better at memorizing poems and speeches, if I hadn’t learned to read.

On the other hand, we know who Socrates was and what he said largely because folks like Plato wrote about him. Ironic, that.

Maybe getting more than “the semblance of truth” takes a little extra effort these days.

But on the whole, I’m glad that humanity’s store of wisdom has been expanded and is being preserved in written form. And that much of it is being digitized.

Jay Simons' 'Map of the Internet 2.0.' Granted, the Internet’s virtual landscape includes mountains of gibberish.

But there’s nothing stopping me from looking for — and finding — nuggets of wisdom.

And, occasionally, rich veins of knowledge.

I don’t remember the gibberish-to-wisdom ratio being much different in my youth, and that’s almost another topic.

Losing My Identity?

Fearing loss of identity goes back at least to the mid-50s.

The earliest instance I remember is in “Donald’s Diary,” a Disney cartoon released in 1954.

My parents didn’t have a television set then, so I probably saw it on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” reruns. Which I enjoyed on their black-and-white set.

I’ve recognized fear of losing one’s identity as a real perception, but didn’t understand it. Not until I lived in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and San Francisco. Sharing a sidewalk with rush-hour pedestrians isn’t among my fonder memories.

But even after I learned what crowds of pedestrian commuters look like, I had trouble imagining what losing my identity would feel like. I’ve always been “me,” not someone else, and distinct from other individuals around me.

I’m not even sure I’d be able to successfully blend into a crowd. I talked about that under Brilliant, Talented and On Medication on this blog’s About Me page.

But, getting back to information overload, loss of identity and Pope Francis: part of being Catholic is remembering that it’s not all about me.

So I’ll keep trying to understand those concerns. And do what I can to improve the Internet’s knowledge/gibberish ratio. Maybe even polish a nugget or two of wisdom.

More, or less, of the same thing:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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3 Responses to Not Feeling “Information Overload” or “Loss of Identity”

  1. Speaking of loss of identity, I think I often have to come across discussion about that whenever I have to learn about Philippine history and culture. Still, as much as I’d like to rant and rave with claims that we’re quite distinct, I’ve been seeing the world outside my islands as a place with a difference that’s quite smaller than we tend to think, especially past all the glitz and glamor, whether they be luxurious or rebellious. I could be cynical about it, which I’m sure I have been before and am still struggling with even now, but on the other hand, that insight has been helping me understand and appreciate the Bible, among other important things for our salvation. Of course, that’s something you and I can’t do without God Almighty ruling over us. 😀

    • Indeed. Understanding, appreciating – – – breathing, for that matter. Can’t do it without God. Wouldn’t want to, even if it were possible, and that’s another topic.

      Being distinct? I think that’s inevitable for individuals, families, nations and other subdivisions of humanity.

      I think there’s also some truth in an old gag: “Each of us is unique, and that’s how we’re all alike.”

      Smallness, size, our world and the world our world is in – – – are more topics. It’s getting late. I should stop now. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for taking time to comment!