The principal response to the anxiety about Information Overload has been a technical one, namely, trying to improve the processing and management of information. But the development of new techniques of storage and retrieval of information does not relieve their users of the burden of interpreting it and understanding what it means. To gain meaning is a cultural accomplishment, not technical one. Unfortunately, Western society has become estranged from the messy business of engaging with meaning. This sensibility is vividly captured by the oft-repeated idiom (‘That’s too much information!”), so common that it’s now often communicated in texting simply by thumbing out “TMI.” This idiom is often used playfully to warn about “over-sharing” personal details or inappropriate sentiments. But the very fact that the ambiguities of everyday encounters are expressed through a language that quantifies personal communication (“too much”) and reduces it to abstract information speaks to a culture that all too readily assigns people the role of passive victims of information overload.
The corollary of Information Overload is the phenomenon of what Nico Macdonald, a British writer on digital culture, has characterised as Paradigm Underload. Macdonald notes that the problem facing society is not the quantity of information but the conceptual tools and paradigms with which to “filter, prioritise, structure and make sense of information.” Unfortunately, without a paradigm, the meaning of human experience becomes elusive to the point that the worship of Big Data displaces the quest for Big Ideas.