There’s a new bookstore in London that’s touting itself as a haven for those who want to get away from information overload. Libreria has no Wi-Fi, and all tablets and phones are banned. But, without realising it, this bookstore is demonstrating how the term “information overload” is all relative.
From The Guardian:
But what will raise an eyebrow – even render you persona non grata, although I’m sure the staff would do it very sweetly – is if you walk into the shop in unholy communion with your mobile phone or tablet. Libreria will be a digital-free zone – a deliberate decision, [bookstore owner Rohan Silva] tells me as we retire to Jago for coffee, to emphasise how vital it is to occasionally decouple from your device. For many, including those at Second Home, he argues, “their lives are about endless barrages of digital messaging – so not just email and text messages, but Slack messages, Whatsapp messages, Instagram posts, Twitter, this whole welter of digital distraction and noise. And there’s this growing awareness, quite mainstream now in this community, that being in front of your screen the whole time, being plugged into digital technology the whole time, isn’t great for your happiness or your creativity.”
I won’t disagree that information overload exists as a concept. But it has always been a relative one. In Silva’s photo at the Guardian he’s literally sitting in the middle of millions of words printed and bound in paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love books and bookstores. In fact, I buy deadtree books almost exclusively. But having too many books used to be considered a threat to society.
I’ve helpfully annotated the photo of Silva (which looks like a cool bookstore, by the way!) to show where “information overload” is occurring.
Don’t think an abundance of books can be considered “information overload”? Take a look at this clip from the 1972 apocalypse porn documentary, Future Shock:
The film is based on Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book of the same name and the entire thing is rather quaint for viewers from the 21st century. Toffler, arguably the most important academic-futurist of the 20th century, is concerned that the world is being inundated with too many books, which leads to too much knowledge, which leads to... well, I’ll just let you try and understand.
From the narration by Orson Welles after a dizzying camera shot of a bookstore:
Technology feeds on knowledge. Knowledge expands at a phenomenal rate. Throughout the world, more than a thousand books are published every day. Over 30,000 a month—365,000 a year.
I accept the idea that people feel overwhelmed by their devices and the constant torrent of information that we all consume. But there’s very little no reason for everyone to always be connected. You have a choice. And if that choice involves sitting in a bookstore without internet, more power to you.
But we can’t pretend that anything short of living in a cave is the only way to truly protect oneself from “information overload”. The world moves quickly and it’s often overwhelming. But it always has been. Your perception of information overload is simply a matter of perspective. And our grandchildren are certainly going to find our fears about it quaint, just as we find so many elements of Future Shock quaint today.
Gif via YouTube by Andrew Liszewski