Why I prefer travelling on the information side street
Words & images © Paul Ransom
Election Day 2022.1 Surely, as a responsible citizen in a modern democracy – with 24/7 access to an avalanche of party blurbs, up-to-the-second campaign news and the dazzling insights of the commentariat – I would make it my business to stay dutifully informed? After all, this is the Information Age. To be uninformed is to be disenfranchised. Or worse, careless. Foolish. Maybe even selfish.
How dare you not have your finger on the pulse! Ignorance is not a defence!
If only I gave enough of a fuck. You see, it’s not that I am ‘over’ democracy or that I have lapsed into believing that the world is covertly governed by a kiddy-fiddling uber-elite – thus rendering all elections a foregone conclusion – but rather that I just do not require the turbo charged info overload of life on the autobahn of instant updates.
Up to a point, being informed is great. It’s empowering. Liberating. It confers advantage, especially when dealing with shady sales folk and the peddlers of salvation and doom. It can also make you seem smart and sexy. Hooray for information.
Yet, like any good drug, it can have downsides. The sheer volume of information available on-demand now seems more like clutter and cacophony than a treasure trove of all human inspiration; so much so that staying up to date has become a full time job.
There must be better ways to spend my limited and diminishing supply of days. After all, none of this supposedly vital information is going to stop there being an end to such days.
The wise are as dead as the stupid, stupid.
Before you start accusing me of nihilist complacency or declinist, old man moaning, my retreat from the information deluge is less a rejection of modernity and more a tactical response to the fact that information is not only not necessarily true but, in a lot of cases, not even interesting. Moreover, most of it is useless.
What do I mean by useless? Two things: the information itself and the fact of my knowing it. Whilst the trivia and transience of celebrity diet fads and pre-packaged scandals are simply not worth the effort, so too my knowing about every distant horror or twist in the drama of digital politics makes no noticeable difference, to me or the victims. So, why bother with any of it? (Aside from the entertainment value.)
Maybe the only sign I need to locate on the multi-lane motorway of must-know info is the off-ramp arrow – which makes you wonder about entertainment. What does it mean to be entertained?
All this and more, I suspect – because there is an innate drama in human affairs, to which we are rightly attentive. Indeed, alongside our inclination for voyeurism and outrage, we have a rational and reasonable interest in one another. In a shared world we are understandably keen to keep tabs on what others are up to, lest our lack of awareness comes back to haunt us.
It is also fair to acknowledge that at this stage in human history, the size, complexity and conflictual nature of the infotainment environment is hardly surprising. So many voices, such readily available megaphones. (Like this one. Cue: impotent rant from anonymous amateur. Off ramp in two words.)
Now that the so-called discourse has become an all-in shout-off and ‘the news we need to know’ comes at us from every conceivable angle, we find ourselves in a sea of white noise, where the only perceivable patterns in the data are louder, faster, ever-increasing. Oh, and maybe dumber. Or is that deafer?
In my case, definitely the latter. Thus, whilst you may well call me stupid, I have lately elected to cover my ears.2 And things are so much better now that the volume has been turned down. Who would have thought that not knowing what Britney was up to, or what President X said about subject Y, would feel so much like freedom? Ah yes, freedom. From noise. From trivia. From the Marshall stacks of heavy dread.
However, having voted with my ears to tune out, I was faced with a stark choice when the recent election campaign swung into gear back in April. Would I break my news fast? Would I drill down into the feed to see what my Facebook chums were saying? Errrmmm…how about no.
I chose to mute the entire campaign for a number of reasons, chief amongst them being that politics – and electioneering in particular – is little more than low-brow theatre. Whereas governing is serious and detailed, convincing voters is a lurid and manipulative pitch to selfishness, jingoism, fear of change, and our penchant for believing in simplistic, catch-all prescriptions. Without needing to keep abreast of policy announcements or scour the party pamphlets, I somehow knew that Election 2022 would be a spiteful, idiotic, tick-boxing waste of brain space. And guess what…3
- Far from wishing to amplify the ubiquitous anti-politician blame-fest, the deeper point here is that we – the electors – are likewise complicit in the immature spectacle of modern democracy. You may not like hearing it, but we get the politics we deserve.
- If you have thus far resisted the urge to cancel me and are interested in diving into this a little more, check out this op ed I published on (shock horror!!!) a mainstream media website back in 2014.
Having blanked the democratic process, did I get blindsided and find myself accidentally voting for the ‘wrong’ candidate? Of course not. I know that my vote, like my dollar, is a market signal. It may be tiny and come with no guarantees and, on occasions, it may even work to my detriment – but I certainly don’t need non-stop news and social media sloganeering to remind me of this. In fact, I probably don’t need to know that much at all.
Will I be negatively impacted if, in my ignorance, I slip off-trend? Are the children of Yemen made safer by me knowing every awful detail of their terrible plight? Is democracy doomed if I miss the leaders’ debate? Likely not.
Information is great when it serves us, when it helps to end cruelty and curb unsustainable folly, when it broadens our horizons and gives us other options. It can also be great fun. Yet, in a culture of billions yelling, it can quickly become an overwhelming and disorienting fog. A confuse-opoly. A distortion. An invitation to switch off.
As one ancient enough to recall the breathless promise of the early internet, I now regard the much hyped information superhighway from the distance of data fatigue. The vanity-serving thrill I used to get from being able to casually namedrop Nepalese Maoist insurgents or obscure Japanese noise artists has morphed into the quiet pleasure of listening to the songs of neighbourhood birds and contemplating the void.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I have a callous disregard for the fate of the downtrodden or a renunciant fetish for righteous ignorance, it’s just that I don’t need all the detail. My state of mind is not improved by knowing how many of you caught COVID yesterday, let alone where you ate pizza or which out-group you choose to blame for everything that’s apparently so fucked up in your world. Just as you would prefer not to witness all my suffocating self-drama. Or read my sanctimonious drivel.
So let’s agree to turn a blind eye, shall we? No more heavy traffic. No more info obesity. Just a nice, quiet side street and a downsized healthy snack to keep us purring along – because …
1: The election in question was the Australian Federal, held on May 21, 2022.
2: The tipping point for me came during the pandemic. The relentless and ultimately boring focus on COVID minutiae and the melodramatic, ideological frothing of doom mongers, libertarian dick-wavers and overnight epidemiologists served only to hasten my recourse to the shut down click.
3: The only piece of election garbage to puncture my comfortable bubble of unknowing came from one of the many ‘independent’ candidates who stood in my electorate. Walking past the local sports ground one day, I spied this guy’s poster. In big bold letters it declared that he was the man to ‘save our country’ and that he alone would ‘protect our freedoms.’ All of which got me thinking – who was he saving the country from, and for? And who was ‘our’? Did it include me? (Turns out the village messiah was aiming to save us all with automatic weaponry and a jihad against paedophiles. Sorry buddy, but although I am no apologist for sex offenders, I’m fairly sure I don’t require your muscular and moustachioed brand of machine gun salvation. And frankly, I wouldn’t you let within a mile of my freedoms.)
4: The famous JMK grab goes on to say. “In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestuous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.” (PS: Hope this isn’t too much information for you.)