Bathing in ambient information

A few observations:


  • When awake, I rarely go more than 2 hours without being connected to email, Twitter or the Internet at large – either on my laptop or through my phone.
  • On most mights, the last thing I do before falling asleep is put my iPad down, and when I awake, that same iPad is the first thing I reach for. 
  • The other day, my 6-year son just finished his 400th puzzle in the game Unblocked on his iTouch.

These types of observations have been on my mind quite a bit of late. Not long ago, I heard someone with a better flare for phrases than me talk about how we are constantly being bathed in “ambient information.“ For example, a Pew Research Center study found that the average girl between the ages of 12 and 17 sends and receives 80 text messages each day, and one in three teens sends or receives over 100 text messages daily.


I also look at my own behaviors, and the extent to which I am bathed in ambient information.


For example, I find myself drifting through my Twitter stream from time to time – not because I need to know what’s going on in anyone’s life, but it feeds me links to information about what’s happening in the world around me – sometimes news, sometimes technology, sometimes politics, sometimes just humor and entertainment. Ambient information is exactly what it is, and it is soothing and it’s addictive. I crave it when I’m away from it for long.


While I guess it was subconsciously evident to me how addictive the Internet and a digital existence can be, I recently came across two stories – one through Twitter and one on a podcast (speaking of ambient inflow of information) – that really hammered home how real this addiction can be.


The first story was about a study recently conducted at the University of Maryland – one in which a class of 200 students were asked to go without any digital consumption for 24 hours. About a third of the students couldn’t get through the assignment. Some reported feeling nervous, jittery or sad. Here’s one description of the experience a student gave: “Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.”


The second story was a Frontline documentary called “Digital Nation,” which I’d eagerly recommend watching. It describes all kinds of unintended consequences of this digital age – from South Korean kids literally dying from exhaustion after playing video games for 48+ straight hours in Seoul’s famed Internet cafes, to kids at prestigious universities like MIT completely unable to concentrate on any particular topic for more than a few minutes at a time.


I love the Internet, and I love the digital age. I’m a cofounder of a great little company that taps into the whole digital age phenomenon.


But I also have to say that the ramifications of such abundant information flow are a bit scary. There are parts of our brain that we’ll cease to use. My son might be actually learning something by getting through 400 Unblocked puzzles, but will he be able to remember his home phone number (then again, will he have to?)


It’s an interesting story – one that I’ll follow the years ahead on my Twitter feed.

Visual appended on 6/6/2010 Who's Addicted to the Internet


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