I was chatting to my housemate the other day. Like me, he’s a sucker for the web – particularly wikipedia. I came up with a trademark half-baked hypothesis.

Obesity is a modern condition that arises because for the whole of human history its generally a good idea to eat whenever you get a chance. You never know when the next famine is round the corner so always stockpile energy reserves. There’s a reason calorific food tastes good: that’s your evolved body giving you a nudge. It’s only in the last couple of generations that developed societies have a widespread surplus of food. The species has not had a chance to evolve a reaction to this, though if civilisation lasts that long, it may.

A similar situation arises with information. Up until the last century your sources of information were somewhat constrained and you could probably take in and think about everything. If somebody had taken the bother to write it down on precious paper or tell you about it then it was probably worth paying attention. The problem is now we have a glut of information and we can’t resist sucking it all down without being selective. The curiosity payoff cannot be sated. As a result, we feel mentally bloated and clogged.

Hence, infobese. It gives RSS feed a whole new feeling.

What’s the answer? Being more selective? Turning down that appetising link? I don’t know. I don’t have facts, I just have broadband.

UPDATE: I may have made up the word myself, I can’t remember, but I’m not the only one.

UPDATE 2: Another interesting article on infobesity from Jim Morrison, including tips on info-dieting.

Categories: Uncategorized

3 thoughts on “infobesity

  1. I thought up infobesity, too, and currently hold #1 position on Google; but someone in Quebec thought of it in 1996 calling it infobésité.

  2. I’ve been brought up on a fairly low-calorie diet, including not having a TV, but I guess I’ve become somewhat more bloated since becoming addicted to the Internet. I still see them very differently; at least you have control over your web consumption, only limited by your self-control. I really detest the trend towards being force-fed TV in pubs, trains and on the street.

    Personally I think information filtering using machine learning techniques is one of the biggest opportunities of the moment – reducing the sprawl of media on the web to one personalised information stream and prioritising it effectively. Then we’d have just a small number of places to check for interesting happenings, and when we’ve got bored of watching them, it probably means that there’s nothing more interesting to come, giving us a natural point at which to feel satisfied and to get on with something else. At the moment, there’s just too many sources of partly-interesting information that I can surf for hours, still salivating over the prospect of another tasty morsel.

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