In Defense of Information Overload

As I’m starting this post, I’m listening to Roger Moore guest host for Albert Mohler’s radio show talk about how technology is “taking over our lives.” In discussions with callers, he talks about laying his Blackberry down on the table when eating with other people. Some callers mentioned seeing families out together with the dad checking email on his Blackberry and the kids listening to iPods through ear buds.

My Father-in-law was over for dinner Thursday night. Joshua finished up and just left the table to play. I had long since finished dinner. Christina and her dad (I’m sorry and I don’t mean this to be, well, mean) tend to eat much slower than I do. I was done eating, nobody was talking, and I really wanted to break out my Pocket PC or iPod Touch to check email of read my RSS feeds in Google Reader. My wife gets on my case frequently for “always being on that machine.” I have checked with other friends with Windows Mobile phones or Blackberries or iPhones and I find that our wives all voice the same complaint frequently. Come to think of it, I love when I travel for work because when we sit down to dinner, we all pretty much lay our phones on the table and randomly check for email and text messages, and the best part is because we’re engineers, nobody considers this rude!. On my last trip, while we were eating wings, there was a Blackjack, a Q, my 6945, an iPhone, and a Blackberry all sitting on the table while we ate.

Now, I’d be absolutely wrong to spend all of my time on my “machines” and neglect my kids. Perhaps my wife thinks this is what I’m doing. I honestly don’t see where the problem lies when there is dead time, no talking, no nothing, with me taking out my Pocket PC to check email, perhaps read one that may be pertinent, and put it away. I hear people complaining all over about how much time they “have” to spend on email. I honestly don’t feel chained at all, but maybe my life doesn’t revolve that much around email. I get several newsletters, but I can get to them when I feel like it. I get very little email that is immediately actionable, but maybe that’s because I don’t really have any friends.

The other day I stopped on my way home to get my brakes looked at. Turns out I just needed a $40 adjustment. Cool! While I was waiting, I had my “brain,” my iPaq 6945. I was able to check email, check my RSS feeds on Google Reader, and read a book in Pocket Reader. It was wonderful! No more staring at the walls or trying to read a magazine I’m not really interested in while I’m at a doctor’s office or mechanic’s shop.

Let’s all just take a step back and admit that maybe, on one level, we actually sort of enjoy the information overload. If you honestly don’t like it, then take a step back. I’m enjoying it personally. I love having an alternative to “dead time,” when nobody is talking, nothing is happening, and the time would otherwise go to waste. I just wish I could use my devices more during dead time after dinner without getting yelled at. Manners can go both ways. A couple years ago, while watching children’s TV, All Grown Up was on. One of the girls decided to chase down her Japanese heritage. She held some kind of tea party for her friends. One of the other kids decided to dig in to his food. He was told by the girl with Japanese heritage “In Japan, it’s rude to start eating before everybody else.” Since my wife was in the room, I yelled back at the TV “In America, it’s rude to make people wait to eat.” I’ve told my wife, if you don’t want me on my Pocket PC during dead time at dinner, then bring up a conversation topic. Shouldn’t we consider “dead time” to be rude?

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