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  • Writer's pictureJonesy

The opposite of ignorance is not omniscience

We aren't built to contain all knowledge.

We are curious creatures. We crave knowing things. Every little detail of the world is, potentially, a tantalizing tidbit that we want to add to our collection of "things we know", regardless of how important it is.

The internet is a flood of tidbits. It promises infinite knowledge, and increasingly, demands constant attention in order to collect that knowledge. Each tiny fact is a rare pokemon, and if you aren't constantly refreshing your feed, you'll miss the chance to catch it.

I think this is maybe bad. Like, super bad. "Driving us all to deep depression and death" bad. And I think because… well, because not all information is information we need. And the internet has become very good at dressing up factoids in the costumes of import.

Here's an example with no emotional stakes: UPS tracking.

When I have a package coming, because I have a UPS account, I get an email. The email says, "Hey, Jonesy, you've got a package coming tomorrow."

This is Good. This is good information. This tells me something I didn't know before. I knew I had a Vague Probable Package Sometime, but now? It's at the depot, it's going on a truck, and if it doesn't arrive by end of day, there was a problem. If the package is something urgent, I can even plan my day around being close to home so I can get it as soon as possible. This? This is Good Information.

I also get an email when a package has been delivered. This is Very Good. I live on the 5th floor in a building that, occasionally, is victim of a package thief. I don't want to go downstairs every hour looking for a Maybe Package, and I don't necessarily want to risk leaving a package alone for multiple hours to become a Maybe Gone Package. An automatic email saying "Hey, that box we told you was coming? It's here, man. Go down and get it." This is Good Information.

Now. In between those two emails, I ALSO get an email saying I can track my package IN REAL TIME while it's on the truck. Click a button, and I get a map with a little UPS truck on it driving around my neighborhood, with an estimated delivery time next to it (usually a four-to-six hour window).

What the hell is that for?

I mean, I can see why it FEELS like information I need. It feels totally transparent and good at first glance. "My package is definitely coming! Look! It's two blocks away!" But… how does this do anything but raise my anxiety levels and prevent me from doing anything but mindlessly refreshing the map? It's not like I'm going to go hunt down the truck and get the package early. It's not like I'm going to know any earlier that my package has been delivered. There is no action I can take, there is nothing I can do with this information apart from… know it. And worry about it.

This, to me, is most of the modern internet.

It's easy to filter out spam. It's less easy to filter out pointless clickbait and propaganda, but it can be done. It takes self-control not to engage with the blatant lies and hypocrisy, but purely deciding not to feed the trolls gets you most of the way there. But this? This is real information, highly related to information you both want and need. Important-Adjacent. It feels like something you should spend time on. It looks almost identical to Necessary. But it's just more noise. You-flavored noise.

We are all vulnerable to flattery, and what could be more flattering than noise tailored specifically to target our ears and our ears alone? They've slathered random empty-calorie factoids in a heavy coating of Us-flavor. We find our noise delicious, and wonder why we're so tired. It's not nutrition. It's still just noise.

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