We’ve seen a staggering increase in the amount of data being shared and created on the internet. This phenomenon has even been described as a ‘Sharepocalypse’ or massive information overload. This is the result of millions of pieces of content being shared billions of times per month, which has led many to speculate on whether there is a ‘choice overload’, such as Sheena Iyengar has described in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2000. But I don’t see this as being the major problem that we are facing today, rather the main focal point of this post will skim over the points of the dissemination of information and rather look at the information itself, namely whether the information being shared is of pertinent, or a qualitative nature or rather of a more temporal, quantitative nature- that of information being shared for sharing’s sake.
I can pre-empt this discourse by describing my own experiences with this medium. My first venture into the realms of the internet being in 1996 on the then popular Lycos Angelfire, and my first website; a gaming fan page that shared cheats to Gameboy games. Although I didn’t create the cheats or the images hosted on the website, I still an urge to share the information with others and as a result, find personal satisfaction in my endeavours. The second stage of my experience on the internet can be summed up nearly a decade later, when I created a Livejournal in which I would post bi-weekly, grandiose journal entries about my recent activities, thus making the transition from content sharer to content creator. This was the beginning of a cyclical relationship that I still find myself caught up in today, that of sharing and creating.
Today we can see that the internet has pierced into almost every facet of our daily lives. Indeed as internet surfing has become as mundane as taking a shower (perhaps even more so for some individuals) I feel that we seem to be lacking, or have perhaps forgotten (while being caught up in the fashionable trend of the internet) the purpose of the activity; that of sharing meaningful content which can lead to a more informed individual presence which should in all respect, lead to a more informed collective existence as a species. But is this really what is happening?
My contention can be summed up in my observations that much of the content being created, year by year, is gradually becoming pithier and of such a fleeting nature as to be intentionally created to be digested, forgotten and skipped over, awaiting the next course to feed our ever growing appetites. It harks back to the beginning of psychological advertising that Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays perpetuated through his ‘Engineering of Consent’ in the early 20’s which ultimately led (bear in mind I’m skipping a lot here) to the intentional obsolescence of commodities due to the raw demand for self identification though the products we purchased. And with that transition in mind, we can see the planned obsolescence of those tangible commodities seeping into this newest of mediums and moulding our intangible communications through self-identification with this information’s genesis and perpetuation.
Just as we saw the exponential rise in the production of automobiles (even to the point where there were more cars than customers to buy them), so too have we seen the rise in information being produced. In fact, our generation has created more information content than any other generation previous, in the whole history of mankind (I pity our poor great great great grandchildren who will have to sift through all of this rubbish). And here in lies the rub. We have become so accustomed to sharing, many of us don’t even care what it is that we are sharing, publishing, pushing. This intrinsically lowers the overall quality of information in a vein attempt to compete with the sheer mass of information put forth, all in an attempt to identify ourselves with this information to leverage our ’social influence’.
This ideal of ‘social influence’ has culminated in an entire new industry and given hundreds of individuals (such as myself) a job of sifting through this ‘Sharepocalypse’ to find the source and meaning behind it all. Although daunting, it has become clear that the information we share on the internet has a very pronounced impact on the way we feel about ourselves, not only as just a form of communication that leads to a individual’s sense of feeling ‘informed’ and knowledgeable about the world, but as a self-identifying node that holds a correlation between our online social influence and our overall offline psychological makeup.
But before I can go any further into this discourse, I’ll have to admit that I too am caught up in this cycle of content-orientated self-identification and am not able to present a complete picture of what this content actually means to individuals, or how we class quality information. So I’ve taken steps to try and find out. A few days ago, I launched a social utility that I hope, over the period of a few years, will pose the question to a number of individuals of what they value in content on the internet while providing a platform that will initiate the creation of such ‘quality’ or ‘meaningful’ information. This platform is also something of an experimentation in marketing, advertising and social networking, but at its core I hope that it will make its users question exactly what it is that they value in the information that they share. I’ve named it ‘Momentous Me’ and its tagline (for now at least) is ‘Share more than status updates’. What that exactly means, I leave up to you.
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