Each year the Edge Foundation asks a select group of “scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world” to respond to a particular question. Invariably the answers—even when they are wrong or misguided—are fascinating and worthy of reflection.
I love the Internet. . . . But it does have one overwhelming feature: immediacy. (And when the immediacy is ruptured, its users gnash their teeth.) That immediacy is seductive: You can get instant answers, instant responses. If you’re lonely, you can go online and find someone to chat with. If you want business, you can send out an e-mail blast and get at least a few responses — a .002 response rate means 200 messages back (including some hate mail) for a small list. If you want to do good, there are thousands of good causes competing for your attention at the click of your mouse.
But sometimes I think much of what we get on the Internet is empty calories. It’s sugar — short videos, pokes from friends, blog posts, Twitter posts (even blogs seem longwinded now), pop-ups and visualizations…Sugar is so much easier to digest, so enticing…and ultimately, it leaves us hungrier than before.
Worse than that, over a long period, many of us are genetically disposed to lose our capability to digest sugar if we consume too much of it. It makes us sick long-term, as well as giving us indigestion and hypoglycemic fits. Could that be true of information sugar as well? Will we become allergic to it even as we crave it? And what will serve as information insulin?