I Too Much Information Holberg Prize winner Cass R. Sunstein writes about the information age we live in, where information can be found everywhere. How can information affect us in a positive and negative way? Do we have to be exposed to all this information?
How do we provide and receive information? Some information is good for us, while other information creates confusion, unrest and hysteria.
During the pandemic, citizens in most European countries receive new information about new restrictions and rules almost weekly. If we search for covid-19 on the internet, we find many different studies with many different sources. What should we trust? How should we use the information we receive in our own lives?
Information can give rise to agitation, terror, shame and despair.
The first chapter of this book is entitled "Knowledge is power, but ignorance is happiness." Sunstein is certainly right. When we constantly read up on covid-19, we get the feeling that we have some control and power over the virus. Our theories are either refuted or confirmed. We feel safer because we have a little more knowledge. But not all knowledge is rooted in scientific research.
There is a lot of outdated information and conspiracy theories about covid-19 on the Internet that can create confusion – a feeling of powerlessness, skepticism, hysteria and fanaticism. Information can be dangerous if the recipient is not able to think critically, or is simply not resilient. In other words, information is completely dependent on the recipient. "Some become hysterical and others practical," writes Sunstein.
A balancing act
Are those who read up on new information every single day, or those who live in ignorance, the best quality of life during the pandemic?
In my circle of friends and family, it is clear that those who do not read up on new information daily, but who still follow the current restrictions and rules, are the ones who have somehow managed to maintain pre-covid life throughout the pandemic. They are happier and freer than the others – who, for example, have isolated themselves completely from friends and family for over a year. Many of them have become corona fanatics. According to them, everyone who does not live like them – in total isolation – is a corona denier. They believe that covid-19 is life-threatening for everyone and that the whole world should be in total lockdown until the virus is completely gone.
Total ignorance gives a short-term happiness with great risk.
Then we also have those who live in total ignorance – who do not wear face masks and go to illegal parties. Unfortunately, some people have died from the virus – total ignorance gives a short-term happiness with great risk.
It is important to have a healthy balance between knowledge and ignorance: What do we need to know, and what can we live in ignorance of?
Either true or false
With so much information everywhere, one has to keep a cool head and follow the recommendations of professionals.
One can be critical of information, but the criticism only goes to a certain point. The root of the information is either true or false. Those who choose to deny the truth also endanger their lives.
Sometimes those with information can be cursed – it can give rise to agitation, terror, shame and despair. Deciding whether to acquire information is like a game, writes Sunstein: "Are you going to turn over the specific card?" In other cases, information is useless or harmful. For example, do you want to know what all your friends think of you? In Sunstein's surveys, most people answer no to this question.
Having access to information is a human right. We all have the right to know. Our quality of life increases when we get the right information at the right time. Information can prolong and even save lives. As Sunstein writes: "The challenge here is to increase the likelihood that information will make life better and contribute to a happy and long 'true life'."