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TMI: We've Always Had Too Much Information (And We've Survived Just Fine)

Leibniz complained in the seventeenth century about the horrible mass of books that was overwhelming Europe and he said threatened a return to barbarism. 

The telegraph was the first technology, of course, that enabled virtually instantaneous messaging over long distances.  Before that, it’s almost impossible for us to, even though it’s less than 200 years, it’s, I think, for us to put our minds back in the place where the world was when you could not communicate more than a few feet or faster than a few days.  

The fastest a message could travel across the face of the earth was by Pony Express, and Pony Express, that was an express, that was super fast.  There was one exception to that in the opening chapter of my book, which was the talking drums of Africa, which astonished the first Europeans to arrive in that continent. 

Because Africans had a technology before there was an electrical telegraph in Europe that enabled them to send externally detailed and complex messages tens of miles in a matter of minutes, and that surpassed any technology that existed in Europe or Asia.

So there are a lot of lessons from history.  But another category of lesson is we’ve been here before, and, when we worry about too much information, when we look for new services to help us search and filter and find our way through the flood, it’s helpful to recognize that we aren't the first to have these problems.  

As soon as the printing press started flooding Europe with books, people were complaining that there were too many books and that it was going to change philosophy and the course of human thought in ways that wouldn't necessarily be good.  Leibniz complained in the seventeenth century about the horrible mass of books that was overwhelming Europe and he said threatened a return to barbarism.  So we aren't the first people to worry.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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