As a society we have an insatiable hunger for information but when it comes to knowledge we seem to have an unwavering commitment to maintaining a perpetual low calorie diet. Our hunger for information is sated only by the most banal forms of entertainment. We are surrounded by hundreds of cable channels, hundreds of satellite radio stations, ubiquitous cellular devices, and of course the double bacon cheeseburger of information, the internet. With all of this information at out fingertips the net result is all too often simply entertainment. Only by adding context and critical thought to information can it become transformed to knowledge but we seem very adroit at avoiding that critical step.
The pleasure we receive from entertainment is very real and not intrinsically bad. Since the dawn of humanity we have had a desire to be entertained. I suspect there is some valid neurological or biochemical reason why humans pursue entertainment while other species do not. Maybe this served some teleological purpose when most out the day was spent scouring for food, eluding the saber tooth or otherwise battling for your existence. In that context, entertainment could have been a reward for survival and a time to recover for the next battle.
The problem is that today our unrestricted consumption of entertainment based information displaces other more meaningful pastimes or thoughtful pursuits. In a sense it is analogous to Gresham’s Law in that the bad information forces out the good. As tragic as was Natalie Holloway’s disappearance what other events were displaced as we received nightly briefings about the case of one girl. Why does information about suspected murderer and ex cop Drew Peterson dominate the headlines and pseudo-news shows?
The fascination for these cases is not because they are newsworthy or knowing more about the events advances our knowledge. It is pure entertainment. Somewhere deep in our psyche an “entertainment center” must be stimulated by exposure to this information metaphorically in the same way cocaine interacts with the dopamine system in our brain to cause pleasure. Why else would we spend hours and hours watching Three’s Company reruns, The Bachelor, Big Brother, Judge Judy.
I find myself wondering if Aristotle, Descartes, Hegel and other notable philosophers would have accomplished as much to advance our perception of our world if they had had the internet, Blackberries and the Kardashians. Where are the equivalent philosophers and thinkers of today? I fear we are riding on the eroding coat tails of previous generations… generations unencumbered by the never ending onslaught of information.
I am pessimistic. The double bacon cheeseburger will continue to degrade the health of those who consume it but the reality is that it sells. As long as there is an appetite there will be no shortage of hot, steamy burgers. The same is true for our unbridled, over consumption of entertainment based information.