You can feel the tension everywhere. In America, where we’re having a fearful, farcical election. In Europe, from the Brexit shores of Dover to the refugee-laden borders of Turkey. Even at the Olympics, during what is supposed to be a celebration, the opening speech told us that the world was coming together in Rio at a time of dire, global crisis.
Really? The summer of 2016 is uniquely frightening and insecure, compared to other Olympiad years when things were so tranquil the speeches never said a discouraging word?
Global terrorism claimed a horrifying 32,685 souls in 2014. At that rate, we’ll lose a third of a million people to terror in a single decade!
But in the decade between 1965-1974, more than 1.3 million people were killed in one war in one country, Vietnam.
In 2016 we have Zika, a frightful epidemic that has already caused approximately 20,000 birth defects world-wide, and a couple hundred deaths.
In 1984, the year of the Los Angeles Olympic games, AIDS was ramping up globally. It has killed 25.3 million people to date. Though, due to amazing medical advances, fewer and fewer with each passing year.
But 2016 is a time of terror and crisis? Only in our collective minds. A toxic cloud of information is driving us out of our collective minds, because our minds weren’t evolved to take in the dangers and troubles of the whole world, every hour of every day, in our faces and on our phones.
We aren’t facing a crisis of bad things; we’re facing a crisis of bad news. What we’re feeling is information overload psychosis.
The question is why now? Why is the human organism cowering in fear, lashing out in anger, and deeply, pessimistically depressed by the future?
It is the revenge of the machines. We thought that would come when our robots turned on us. Instead the robots made us turn on ourselves, by giving us more information than our flesh and blood brains can handle.
The result is Global Trembling, a planet-wide psychosis caused by information overload.
The reality is there has never been a better time to be alive, and to stay alive for a long time, than 2016. In Brazil, where the Olympics were held this month, the average lifespan in 2009 was 72.4 years. In 1940 and it was 37, and it’s been straight up ever since. That hopeful trend holds true, worldwide.
Reality, if we could only see it through the cloud, should be making us happy, even joyous, to be living in a time of miracles and wonders.
But reality doesn’t stand a chance. It’s drowned out by the noise, the bad news cloud, streaming fear deep into our overloaded souls.
In 1965, co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore predicted that computer processing power would double every two years. It’s called Moore’s Law and he was right. Computing power has evolved exponentially for fifty years and that tsunami continues.
But the human brain evolves at the speed of natural selection. In fact, it’s fairly safe to say that the power of the human brain has increased by virtually nothing at all, since modern humanity hit the global stage 50,000 years ago.
Something frightful happens in the world every day. That has always been the case, and the further back you go in history, the more horrifying those things were.
Used to be, entire civilizations could fade out of existence, empires could crumble, epidemics depopulate subcontinents, and much of humanity had not the slightest idea, or concern, that it ever happened.
Most of us never knew about most of us until the toxic cloud enveloped all of us. The result isn’t compassion, it is fear. Every crime is the crime next door, every epidemic is at our shores, every deranged act of terror floods into our eyes, deranging us.
We weren’t designed to handle this much information, this number of threats, this exposure to tragedy, this fast.
The symptoms of information overload are anxiety, depression, alienation, and a kind of moral vertigo. It makes us afraid of one another. Powerlessness breeds hopelessness and hopelessness breeds fear.
This cloud of noise and bad news is paradoxical; it makes us claustrophobic by expanding our horizons infinitely. Information overload makes us feel out of control. That feeling is neurotic but it’s not wrong.
If information overload makes us feel miserable and powerless, we need to find a path to regaining that power and control.
How, you ask? We’ll talk about that next month.