Are You Suffering From Information Vertigo?
Kate Eichhorn writes in her great little book Content:
In 1994, the editors of Postmodern Culture, one of the first academic journals to start publishing on the web, were concerned enough about this new medium to warn their readers that venturing onto the web, which had grown from an estimated 100 sites in June to over 600 sites by December 1993, may result in “a kind of informational vertigo.” While this warning may now strike readers as hilarious, it is worth noting that for much of the 1990s, finding anything on the web was a problem. It would take nearly a decade for this problem to resolve. As search engines were refined and became more functional, however, the drive to “game the system” also increased. And more individuals and organizations started to produce content for the web that had one sole purpose: to rank high in any search. So-called discoverability came to dictate why a lot of content was being produced.
Vertigo, as in the medical condition, is the feeling of being off balance, and perhaps that the room is sort of spinning around you. I have never experienced true vertigo, as far as I know, but I hate being dizzy and nauseous enough to know that vertigo would render me totally pitiful if I happened to come down with the condition.
It is funny, as the author says above, to think that there was a concern about “informational vertigo” on the internet in the early 1990s. This was merited, as she writes, because there was no reliable way to sift through everything on the internet. It felt like the internet was an endless mound of materials, consequential and not, that could never be properly understood or accessed.
What’s crazy is that, today, despite a handful of incredibly powerful search and cataloguing tools, like Google, it still feels kinda like the internet is an endless mound of materials, consequential and not, that can never be properly understood or accessed. Surely there is more at our disposal today than users had in 1993 because of Google and the like, but the internet still feels endlessly vast.
According to WebMD, symptoms of vertigo include feelings of:
Pulled to one direction
As well as:
Abnormal jerking or eye movements
Ringing in the ears or hearing loss
Now consider these symptoms with regard to information vertigo. How might overexposure to the internet and social media lead you to feelings of spinning, a lack of balance, or even a headache?
Do you follow too many news outlets on Twitter?
Are you trying to keep up with three dozen friends from high school on Facebook and family around the world on Instagram?
How many YouTubers are you subscribed to, and are you able to watch every video they post every week?
Consider the most recent world event. How many opinions did you read about the event before you sought out all the facts about the event? How many TikToks did you see about the event before you read a single article?
I write in my new book The Wolf in Their Pockets with regard to information glut and discernment:
In the same way that a soccer goalie would have a difficult time evaluating and blocking penalty kicks if a dozen of them were kicked at him all at once, our ability to discern what is true and what is good is hindered by the waterfalls of content we attempt to drink every time we scroll our favorite feeds. In this way, we are responsible for our lack of discernment. We can become so information-drunk that we don’t know what is real anymore. Our unquenchable thirst for more content blurs our understanding of reality and can lead us into any number of intellectual or moral ditches.
But we aren’t the only ones to blame. The trouble is that the actual social media platforms themselves spread sensationalism at the cost of truth, and this makes it even easier to succumb to a lack of discernment.
Information vertigo is common when we consume more than we think.
Consuming is in our nature. It is a symptom of sin, I think. We passively consume—it requires no thought. To avoid informational vertigo, we have to actually try to parse our internet activity. We have to grab ahold of our content rather than let it grab ahold of us. But this requires us to consume less, which isn’t very appealing for most of us.
Thanks for reading Terms of Service with Chris Martin! Subscribe for free.