Just a couple of weeks ago, I commented on a post at Savage Minds, an anthropology blog I like to read on a regular basis. It seemed like a fair comment on the article, until I returned later and read a few more comments people had left. What I had done was my comment made the issue much bigger, more important, and, well, hyperbolic than it really needed to be. I felt like an over-eager grad student.
Not to say that I don’t need to watch myself on this account, and not to fall into the trap I have laid down for myself, I do believe that there is a general trend that bears consideration. We are living in the information age; there is, as Thomas Hylland Eriksen points out in Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age, a lack of freedom from information. As such, Eriksen warns that we tend to re-live the Law of Diminishing Returns over and over again as we are bombarded with information.
The Law of Diminishing Returns can be explained in this way (and I am adapting my explanation from Erksen’s): Suppose you are thirsty. You go into a store and buy a bottle of juice. This juice quenches your thirst and tastes absolutely delicious. You buy a second bottle, and while it tastes good, it doesn’t feel quite as refreshing as the first. As you buy up and drink all the bottles of juice in the store, drinking loses all value and meaning.
As we are bombarded with information from the Internet (in whatever particular flavor you prefer — blogs, regular pages, online newspapers, rss feeds), television, and radio (and as students learn in a classroom setting, they are expected to absorb more and more information), any particular piece of information gets lost in the noise as it becomes just another item. As a result, the author must clamor to grab your attention and make it noticed. Often, authors (I) do it without realizing it.
As we think about learning in the Information Age, it is as important to encourage critical and mindful authorship as it is to encourage critical readership.