Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Human Beings are Information-Seeking Creatures

We’ve long been fascinated by the endless streams of data available in the world around us, and we especially love to try to make sense of them. 

What's the Big Idea?


Is the Internet making us stupid? Will our capacity for contemplation be fried by the minute-to-minute updates of Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging? Actually, no, says James Gleick, author of The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

The Internet has revolutionized the way we connect and the way we think, speeding up the rate of virtually everything. At times, having so many facts at your fingertips can feel less like an upside and more like a deluge. (There's a reason why Gleick's book is subtitled "a flood.") But fundamental cultural and technological shifts in our relationship to information are hardly unprecedented. They're "part of the evolution of the species," he says. 

Watch the video: 

Human beings are by nature information-seeking creatures. We’ve long been fascinated by the endless streams of data available in the world around us, and we especially love to try to make sense of them. (The word "information" is derived from a Latin stem informe which means to give form to the mind.) 

"Humanity has always been readjusting to developments in the flow of information," says Gleick. "Printed books appeared in Europe. People had to readjust their thinking. The telegraph made it possible to send instantaneous messages from one place to another place 100 miles away. People had to readjust, and they weren't always aware of the ways in which they were readjusting."

It might feel like we're losing the every day battles -- the battle to filter what we're willing to read on the web, the battle to not whip our heads around frantically every time we hear a ringtone -- but in the long-term, societies adapt and grow along with new technologies. Consider the telegraph, which "made it possible to synchronize human activity across great distances," and shaped our modern conception of time and scheduling. 

Broadcast radio also caused a lot of confusion and stammering at first, but was eventually embraced as a new medium, widening and connecting the world. Visionaries like Bertolt Brecht were obsessed.

As a playwright, Brecht "worked in a medium where the biggest audience he could hope to have day to day was a few hundred people, if he was lucky," explains Gleick. "Suddenly here is a way that people could broadcast to thousands of people, now millions of people. And he said, the man who has something to say and can't find listeners is in a terrible state, but even worse off is the listener who is looking information and can't find someone to speak to him. That's a 100 years ago and it makes you think: what if he had known about Twitter?" 

What's the Significance?

We're just beginning to get a glimmering of the way people will adapt to the power and potential of the Internet, but there are lessons to be learned from the past. It's critical to be willing (like Brecht) to embrace the unknown.

We asked Gleick what he thinks the future holds. "I guess it would be nice to be here in 100 years and see the new species that we’re going to have turned into, the cyborgs, the global consciousness that's coming," he said. "I guess I’d like to know what that's like. But in the meantime, every day brings us a surprise." 

This past month, Big Think has been running a series called Humanizing Technology, which asks the broad question of how technology can empower us, not make us more vulnerable. To view other examples of new and emerging technology that accomplishes this, visit the series here.

Live tomorrow! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Improving Olympic performance with asthma drugs?

A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.

Image source: sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
  • A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
  • The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.

Keep reading Show less

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

R. attenuata escaping from a black-spotted pond frog.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

Why are we fascinated by true crime stories?

Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast