Beware of 'infobesity'

Wednesday October 26 2016

The logo of the messaging app WhatsApp and that of the social networking site Facebook on a smartphone. PHOTO | GABRIEL BOUYS | AFP

The logo of the messaging app WhatsApp and that of the social networking site Facebook on a smartphone. PHOTO | GABRIEL BOUYS | AFP 

By TOM KWANYA
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It is estimated that in just one minute, 2.4 million searches are initiated on Google, 2.78 million YouTube videos are viewed, 20.8 million WhatsApp messages are exchanged, 150 million emails are sent, 20 million photos are shared on Flickr, 347,222 new tweets are sent, and 1,389 Uber rides are initiated.

The result of these activities, and many related others, is infobesity. This is a condition caused by uncontrolled feasting on the big data that is available in the infosphere. Big data is extremely large or complex, to the extent that it cannot be processed using ordinary tools and techniques. Three “Vs” define it: volume (size), velocity (speed), and variety (diversity).

Persons who suffer from infobesity exhibit strange information-seeking behaviour characterised by the skimming of a few pages of information and then bouncing off, never to return. Some scholars have described this behaviour as a form of promiscuity in which people suffering from infobesity exhibit acute infolust in cyberpace.

COMPELLING URGE

They have a compelling urge to lay their fingers or cursors on all information available, but they do not pay adequate attention to it. If you are viewing more than reading then you could be suffering from infobesity.

Do you get more messages than you can meaningfully respond to? Do you misplace information? Do you send posts to the wrong groups? Blame it on infobesity. Do you feel a constant urge to do many things at the same time? Do you call it multi-tasking? That is the wrong name: it is infobesity.

Another symptom of infobesity is the feeling of an obligation to stay “connected” constantly. Do you feel guilty when you do not promptly like or respond to your friends’ posts on social media? Would you rather run out of food than internet bundles? Do you wake up just to check the latest messages on your social media platforms? Do you have more friends on social media than in real life?

People who suffer from infobesity have limited tolerance to delays in getting access to information. Perhaps this is because they have become accustomed to the information superhighway where data moves faster than light. They want instant gratification while applying the least effort.

Furthermore, their information universe is narrow. They believe that everything is on the web, that whatever is not on the internet does not exist. They would rather use inaccurate information that is readily available than spend a few more seconds looking for credible data. They love synthesised, ready-to-use information. They live in echo chambers where they regurgitate the same information over and over again and hope for different results.

IN HYPERTEXT

Infobesity also causes people to think in hypertext. It makes them imagine that every underlined blue text is a hyperlink and that all screens are touchscreens. Such people wish they could make more chapatis through copy (control+C) and paste (control+V).

They also imagine they can rejuvenate by rebooting than having a good night’s sleep. They wish they could dispose of garbage by emptying the recycle bin on their computers. They think making real friends is as easy as sending a friend request on Facebook or breaking up a bad relationship by “unfollowing”. They have more memory space in their digital devices than in their brains. They have a craving for Apple devices than the apple fruit. They would rather improve their typing speed than their handwriting.

Do you sometimes misread messages and make wrong conclusions? Do you make too many assumptions? You know what? Infobesity can make you see patterns that do not exist. In short, it can make you hallucinate. This condition is called apophenia. People suffering from it see non-existent information patterns because they are overwhelmed by the vast amounts of available data. Is that not hallucination?

Infobesity makes people think that they know everything. However, the reality is that they are infoxicated. The more information they have available to them, the less time they have to think about it.

Beware! Infobesity leads to fatigue, stress, tension, decision paralysis, distraction, sluggishness, irritability, and low productivity. It wastes time and other resources. It causes physical and psycho-social illnesses. It breaks hearts. It can “kill”. Isn’t it time to go on a data diet?

 

Tom Kwanya teaches information and knowledge management at the Technical University of Kenya.

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