Sleepwalking on Information

“Our awareness seems to shrink in direct ratio as communications expand; the world is open to us as never before, and we walk about as prisoners, each in his private portable cage. And meanwhile the watch goes on ticking.”

Reads like it was written yesterday, right?

But no. It’s an excerpt from the essay “On Disbelieving Atrocities,” written by Arthur Koestler in January of 1944. The author means to portray the phenomenal ability of the British and American populations to dismiss what was happening in Germany, Greece, Poland, and France as gross exaggerations.

There is a bug in our human operating system. An error that makes it difficult to maintain empathy over long distances, and in large quantities. The example given in the essay is that if we see a dog get run over in front of our house, we are more emotionally affected than by reading in the newspaper that thousands of people were tortured and executed in grotesque ways in Poland.

This doesn’t make us immoral. It is not a choice. It’s a programming error. And it is one that is amplified by distraction, by the megaphones of information that assault our senses. The more information we process in our day-to-day life, the more insensitive we become in relation to what is happening in the world around us.

And today, in 2019, the megaphones are in greater quantity, and of greater power, than they ever were.

The modern paradox: to be awake, you have to limit your exposure to information. Curation, then, becomes more important than ever before.