Life’s becoming impossible in the age of Way Too Much Information
LATELY I’ve been struck by the realisation that we are not so much living in the information age as the way-too-much information age.
lots of reasons, really. Not least the infinite supply of videos on social media of people sharing all aspects of their personal lives — from what they had for breakfast and that boil on their bottom to Prince Harry’s musings about his ridiculous frostbitten penis and the way the police told the world intimate details about missing Nicola Bulley’s mental and physical health for no obvious reason at all.
Non- stop data is being poured ceaselessly into our devices and our brains, occupying space in our individual hard drives which, when you think about it, rarely serves practical purpose other than to make us angry, sad or simply paranoid.
the latest example is the thousands of leaked Matt Hancock Whatsapp messages. the people involved in divulging them are awfully pleased with themselves, claiming some sort of giant victory for the truth and public interest.
But what do the messages really tell us, other than the fact that Hancock is a bloody fool whose brain is in his trousers, or that Isabel Oakeshott, who ghost-wrote his book, is someone no politician would be wise to entrust with a cloakroom ticket, let alone the entire contents of their mobile phone?
BOTH of which truths are already abundantly clear, firstly from Hancock’s public betrayal of his wife and secondly from Oakeshott’s track record as a self-styled ‘scoop getter and feather ruffler’, which ultimately led to a prison sentence for Vicky Pryce after the former wife of one- time liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne revealed how she had conspired with her ex to avoid a motoring fine.
the fact that the person who was naive enough to trust her with his private phone texts was also in charge of our health strategy during the Covid pandemic is far more worrying, in my opinion, than any of the unedifying things he might have said in the messages themselves.
the truth is, all this information, all this machine gun-like rat-tat-tat of arguments, innuendo, accusations and recriminations, might be fascinating in the detail, but it doesn’t make our lives, as consumers of this data, any better or easier.
What does it achieve, other than make us more angry and less trusting of those in power, as well as turn what was a deeply traumatic period in recent history into something that seems even more traumatic?
Will it bring back lost loved ones? No. Will it repair the damage done by lockdown and school closures (which I opposed vigorously)? No.
DOES it offer a calm, balanced, non-biased analysis of the mistakes and misjudgments that were made during an unprecedented time of national crisis? Of course not.
Information is not the same as knowledge. the latter requires context and understanding, intelligent, thoughtful analysis. No chance of that here.
the lockdown Files are just another giant, toxic data dump dressed up as ‘public interest’ — but which is really no less misleading or manipulative than the politicians it pillories.
Had Ms Oakeshott really wanted to serve the public interest, she would have quietly handed the data to Baroness Hallett who, as chair of the forthcoming Covid inquiry, would no doubt have taken the relevant messages into account.
Instead, she’s used the information to further her anti-lockdown agenda, to paint the situation as a simple case of wrong versus right, bad versus good, when she knows as well as anyone that joined-up government is an inherently messy, often long-winded, process, and never more so during a pandemic.
trouble is, that narrative doesn’t sell newspapers or garner many ‘likes’ on twitter. the reality is too much information can be as bad as no information at all.
It doesn’t matter what sphere you’re in — corporate, private, public — there has to be a presumption that some things, some conversations and exchanges, will remain private, that certain boundaries will not be crossed. Otherwise, life becomes simply impossible.