Information obesity

I know that every one of you has your own version of this story, but listen to this. I’m going car camping with my family next week. I bought a new tent. See:


Now where should we go? I don’t really care… it’s going to be a low key trip to someplace not too far away. I buy a book called The Best in Tent Camping: New England. I start reading about the best campgrounds in Massachusetts. After a while, I’m reading about the Mohawk Trail, where the Cold River crashes noisily down the granitic glacier-fractured hillside. Where whispering understory birches are sheltered by towering firs. Now my mouth is watering. I have to go. I am referred to ReserveAmerica, a well-built web site that manages thousands of parks nationwide, and… DAMN! Mohawk Trail State Forest is booked solid. I start researching other nearby campgrounds, and now I’m sucked into the game. Unfortunately, ReserveAmerica lets you pick your campsite from an interactive map, and my book tells you which sites are the very best at each campground. Just when you start to salivate about the perfect spot, your dream is dashed by some early bird camper who’s beaten you to the reservation. You can cycle through this process for hours.

But here’s the thing. There are actually still plenty of campsites, and I’m sure most of them are lovely. We got a nice spot, we’ll have a good time, and we’re only staying for one night anyway. But all that research has filled me with remorse about the perfect spot that got away. Embittered, I’m now planning a little midnight visit to the tent at Site 46 at Mohawk Trail State Forest. I will decorate it with peanut butter and bacon grease. I will do this for two reasons: Site 46 should have been mine, and black bears just love bacon.

My research was making me crazy. In the old days, maybe you’d call ahead and reserve a spot. You’d arrive and they’d tell you where to park. That was that. But now you know what you’re missing.

It occurred to me that I was suffering from information obesity. Prosperity has caused most of us to go from problems associated too little food to problems associated with too much food. Until you adjust to the change, hoarding and binging can make you fat, sick, and miserable. Once I started thinking about information the same way, I could just picture the greasy fat folds in my brain.

There’s nothing wrong with data as such, but please! Lay off the carbs and get some exercise. Make decisions and move on. And remember to wipe down the equipment before you leave.

8 thoughts on “Information obesity”

  1. Good thoughts, but there’s one problem. I’ve camped at Site 46 at Mohawk Trail and it is a rapturous place that provides those lucky enough to stay there with an almost mystical connection to Mother Earth’s indescribable splendor. After wiping away tears of transcendent joy, I experienced a small pang of pity for those unfortunates who failed to stay at this life-affirming place.

  2. Aaaghhh! I knew it! I had nearly reached complacent self-actualized equilibrium, but now you have confirmed my worst fears. Happiness can no longer be mine in a world bereft of Site 46. Oh the humanity!

  3. On a mor serious note, there was an article in this week’s New Yorker on a different topic (the availability of high fidelity digital music on-line) but it had two sentences that echoed your theme: “The medium too easily generates anxiety in place of fulfillment, an addictive cycle of craving and malaise. No sooner has one experience begun than the thought of what else is out there intrudes.”

  4. I am already plotting how to insert “information obesity” into my emails to family and friends. I am a devotee of Best Tentsites in Southern and Northern California. Useful book if you hate bears as they warn you which campgrounds are heavy on the large brown rodents they call bears. Not so great if you can’t get your significant other to go to a campground. We have a 4 wheel drive truck that hauls a high clearance Chalet (sort of a tent camper with hard sides) and we go to the most remote places in the west. Black rock desert? Jarbridge Nevada? I read the amenities that these campgrounds have and cry my eyes out. Bathrooms, showers, stores, water, ice. Who cares about campsite 46. I would welcome even the worst campsite, just to get a shower. Have you gone 3 days with no shower in Death Valley? We still have not forgotten my screaming meltdown in the parking lot of the Furnace Creek Inn. After that he bought me a sunshower and never forgets to get enough water for that shower on the 3rd day. But I dream of camping at Jedediah Smith Redwood Forest in Northern California…the campsites along the river are best per the book. Someday. Thanks for letting me rant. (still trying to figure out how to get out of trip to the Kofa Wilderness near Yuma Arizona).

  5. I actually experienced a similar situation when I was visiting Sarah in New York. We were going out with her friends, and the location kept switching, because someone had heard of something better. Because we were in New York, we were reluctant to settle for something merely ordinary, because we just knew we could find something special somewhere in the city.

    Finally, we decided on an average little pizzeria. It was adequate, but not great, but it was still food, and we had been hungry.

  6. “Data, data everywhere … and not a thought to think.” Or, as Eric Haseltine (National Security Agency, Director of Research, 2002-2005) put it (in PBS/Nova “Spy factory”), “Computers, today, tell people what things are: “Here’s some data that you asked for.” They don’t tell you what it means.” So our PDAs and other such tools are really only helping us to get ever more mired. “Which campsite?” today, “which health care doctrine?” tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after.

    The link I posted is my stab at organizing discourse without de-humanizing it … re-dignifying the subjective narrative, if you will.

    p.s. I just set up NetVibes as background on my second monitor, running in Safari as my second browser. As usual when I play with NetVibes I clicked on my Jon Udell tab, and here I am! Thanks, Jon.

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