• T.W. Emory

A new technology...

Educator and communications theorist Neil Postman once wrote: “A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything.” More and more in recent years I’ve reflected on the term “cognitive miser” which I first heard discussed on the radio some years back. The term was ostensibly coined because of this Information Age we find ourselves in, and how it is that people are basically forced to become miserly, stingy, or quite choosy as to how they spend their mental energies—primarily because of the overwhelming amount of information that bombards us all each day and each week. In this respect, ubiquitous internet-access seems to have ‘changed everything.’

Back in the 1970s and early 80s, futurist Alvin Toffler made popular the terms “future shock” and “information overload.” The first term refers to being overwhelmed and disabled by too much change happening way too fast for a person or society to handle. The second term refers to an excess amount of information being given so that processing and absorbing becomes extremely difficult because a person cannot see the validity behind it. This seems to tie in with the term “cognitive miser.” It will be interesting to see how all the electronic gadgets available coupled with the vast amount of data being spewed forth continues to play itself out on society in general; and perhaps more specifically, what societal and cultural ‘effects’ will eventually be seen in hindsight due to these ‘causes’. As Neil Postman also observed: “Introduce the alphabet to a culture and you change its cognitive habits, its social relations, its notions of community, history and religion. Introduce the printing press with movable type, and you do the same. Introduce speed-of-light transmission of images and you make a cultural revolution.”

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