I’m addicted to high-information entertainment. Hey, so are most of you reading this. But it’s such a throw-away line that is ceases to mean much to us anymore. But I think I might really mean it.
I sometimes play the mental game, when I’m bored, of imagining what I would do if suddenly transplanted to times long ago. The immediate realisation is that while I have lots of good technological concepts, I don’t really know how to go about, say, finding iron ore or making those cotton spinning machines that were a part of the start of the industrial revolution. And even if I could take my reference material (ie. my laptop) along with me, I could spend my life trying to remember exactly how 1 volt was defined, so as to make a generator to power it.
There is another side to it though: would I be happy? I imagine one would spend the day working, maybe farming, and a lot of the rest of the time writing books and trying to invent stuff. But there would be no email, no websites, no blogs, no TV, no movies, no magazines, few books, infrequent music — no information-rich entertainment. Ok, there would be people around the village, but conversation wouldn’t have the constant input of new social memes, or news stories from around the world, or the mixing that is inherent in a big city of well-travelled people — all in touch with a thousand different new ideas every day. Think of what that would mean for your conversations.
Clearly, humanity survived this state of affairs just fine, for most of history. But we’ve grown up with information all around, and to us entertainment means constant injection of new information, of a hundred different forms. Has this changed the way our minds function? Clearly we’ve developed all sorts of skills in handling new computer interfaces easily, and filtering information very rapidly, even when it arrives on many channels simultaneously. (Indeed, general intelligence tests have showed an average increase of 3 points per decade, around the world — which may have something to do with our increasing familiarity with graphical interfaces, which are somewhat similar to many intelligence tests). So I suppose my question is: has our information-rich environment changed the way that we can relax, too?
I’m reminded of experiments (I believe by the Nazis) that showed that if babies were completely deprived of human attention, they got sick and even died. We’re “wired” to be social animals, and so to need human contact. Is it possible that the environment in which we’ve spent our lives submersed has “rewired” us to need high-information entertainment?