This is no great revelation: we are positively drowning in information. Awash in billions of words and sounds, squawks and squeaks, bits and bytes of marketing, ideas, symbols and ideology: we can all hear the information pandemonium in which we are embedded but we are switched (or switching) off to it. We can all hear the noise but are we really, truly listening ? Every now and then something of value or interest catches our attention; perhaps – like an intriguing melody we might notice briefly drifting upon a warm city breeze above the acoustic chaos of a traffic jam, or a particularly vivid image which seen even once still strikes us and resonates deeply. Everything else washes away along with… everything else. Even the few brief moments of genuine interest soon dissolve rapidly into the constant and powerful tides of media, imagery and communication. We might feel justifiably overwhelmed by this information onslaught.
Living in a large city often causes individuals to adapt to the noise and chaos by learning to filter out the almost constant noise and sensory overload around them – it is a coping mechanism. The danger of this is of course that once someone becomes desensitised to their environment, they may not notice something of importance or something (even someone) in need of attention. Conversely, the effort required to block out all of this useless noise and junk information means that the only messages which might actually get through the acquired psychological filters might be the outrageous or otherwise controversial and shocking semiotics of pure political spectacle or entertainment, tragedy and violence. Someone might pay too much attention to a message due to its veracity or intensity, regardless of any intrinsic value or actual worth to what is being propagated. I think we can see this happening already – the arrival and non-trivial influence of fake media stories and the potential for any half-wit with network access to manufacture a false truth is symptomatic of the sheer volume of information making its way into the consensus reality and digital culture.
Another emergent feature of all this semiotic cacophony is that the spectacularly brief half-life of social media posts, news articles and advertising campaigns appears to be due to their construction of (and dependence upon) two parts information over-saturation, one part entrained short attention (or memory) span, and at least one part techno-cultural acceleration. Perhaps all of this information overload is symptomatic of the beginning of the technological singularity ? I find myself wondering what emergent properties are likely to arise from all this information cacophony. It is certainly true that without some well-cultivated Artificial General Intelligence deployed to assist us filter out all the garbage, we are at genuine risk of drowning under the weight of all the superficiality, triviality, misinformation and lies.