In my recent South America travels, I had a good opportunity to read as well as sleep (both benefits of air travel). I particularly liked a book entitled Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff (Penguin, N,Y., 2014)—obviously a friendly take-off of Alvin Toffler’s 1970’s book Future Shock.
When I joined the Stanford Faculty in the 1960’s, there was much attention being paid to personal growth, alternate states of consciousness, eastern religions. and living in the “now” in the U.S. The country is at this point more sophisticated in such things, but according to Rushkoff, may be living too much in the “now”, or at least in the present. His book examines the interaction between time, information, and life. I found it most readable, very interesting, and worthy of inclusion in the excellent books now coming out on the brain, information overload, and human problem solving. More information is contained in the “recommended books” column on the left of this bog.
In his introduction, Ruchkoff points out that perhaps we are now living more in the “now”, but that we are not necessarily more aware of what is going on around us. To quote him, “we tend to exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before us are ignored. Our ability to create a plan—much less follow through on it— is undermined by our need to be able to improvise our way through any number of external impacts that stand to derail us at any moment”.
Rushkoff is a major user of the internet, as well as a critic of the role it can take in both helping and distracting us. The book is full of examples and a large amount of insight into problems we face in handling information that is designed to seem both powerful and instantly digestible. I was taken by one analogy he makes between small bits of information traveling rapidly through time (Twitter?), which he refers to as streams, and information pools more stationary in time (books, Wikipedia?) which he refers to as ponds. He validly makes the point that streams are shallow and fast moving and fun to play in, but perhaps do not always lead to valid conclusions (can you really tell what people want in the future by sampling what they have just bought?). Ponds, on the other hand, feature depth, complexity, and information more meaningful over time, but require time and effort to fish. To confuse matters, some internet formats, such as e-mail messages, can have characteristics of both streams and ponds, as can books, depending on whether you glance at the summary and scan them, or actually read them.
Rushkoff’s book is well worth reading, and should make you think more deeply about how you are dealing with the overwhelming amount of information available to you, not only through the internet, but due to improved communication in general, as well as increased travel and globalism.
Are you not reading books any more because you can get the information you need in more “efficient” ways? You may be fooling yourself (or others may be fooling you). Maybe you should spend less time playing in streams and more fishing in ponds.