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Are we suffering from information overload?

Updated Tuesday, 9th August 2005

Open University sociologist David Goldblatt is tired of fighting the daily battle against the data glut. He wants to focus our attention on better communication - not just more communication. Here he takes the Information Age to task as he gives Ever Wondered his expert view on why not all data is good data

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Geoff Hoon on the television Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

"We’re living through an information and communication revolution. But does the information that’s being communicated to us add up to knowledge and wisdom? I don’t think so. In fact I know it doesn’t. Think about it - we mark the Millennium by building the Dome, a great secular temple of knowledge….but is it?

Child with parent at the Dome The Dome aims to give you more information about everything. Just like the other museums, the zoos, the infotainment channels…they’re all saying more information is better information. Information’s not just useful - it’s essential they say.

David Goldblatt

But what are we going to do with all this information - do we really need it? Even at home there’s no escape - we’re deluged with information…from the internet, e-mail and endless streams of television drivel! In a single day we’re exposed to as much information as Renaissance man was in his whole life. Where did it go so wrong?

Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect and engineer whose genius epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal

Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man - knowledgeable and innovating in every field. A great artist but also capable of great mechanical achievement. In Leonardo’s time, information was scarce, so more of it was considered good…but we could handle it because it came to us segmented into pieces. Now we have more information available to us than Leonardo could have ever dreamt of…but because there’s too much of it, we just don’t know what to do with it.

Take the BSE crisis…there were so many different messages being communicated that what resulted was distress and confusion, not certainty and truth. We’re afraid to be seen as Luddite - God forbid that we might actually miss something. We gorge ourselves on information until we’re fit to burst. It may seem a bit of a cliché, but perhaps the countryside is the only place we can get away from all that information overload.

So - time to wake up and smell the grass….you never know, you might learn something!"

If you would like to find out more about the complex network of beliefs and practices of the Renaissance then have a look at course AA305 The Renaissance in Europe: A Cultural Enquiry
Maybe you’d like to learn more about the future trends of the modern industrial society? Then have a look at course D213 Understanding Modern Societies

Or perhaps you’d rather have a look at course A103 An Introduction to the Humanities as the starting point to exploring the arts

And here are some more ways to enhance your understanding of communication:

Books you can read

"Information Overload", David Lewis, Penguin Books, ISBN 0140274650

"Handling Information Overload in a Week", Andrea Griffiths, Headway 41, ISBN 0340742879

"Leonardo Da Vinci", David Alan Brown, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300072465

"The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci" (Oxford World Classics), Irma A. Richter, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192838970

"Man of the Renaissance", Ralph Roeder, Kelley, ISBN 0678031711

Links you can surf

The Sociological Research Online

For more information on the London Science Museum

For more information on the Exhibition on Leonardo Da Vinci at the Science Museum
Also on this site : You can join Tamara Beckwith as she finds out why we love to gossip or join Steven Pinder as he asks do we really say it best when we say nothing at all?

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what the Open University has to offer.

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