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Informing Ourselves to Deteriorating Health

“The light bulb: consider it a medium without a message, just pure information.” – Marshall McLuhan

Information Theory

In 1948, MIT grad student Claude Shannon wrote a paper titled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in which he developed what we know today as the information theory. Shannon defined information as “what is needed to reduce uncertainty”, so in turn information can then be measured by the amount of uncertainty it reduces. Entropy quantifies the uncertainty involved in predicting the value of a random variable (for example the outcome of rolling a 6 sided die). The universe tends to move from order to entropy, the state of disorder where things naturally fall apart and fall down. This tendency of the universe to move toward chaos is the motion of time’s arrow, much like how a messy room, once cleaned and made orderly, will eventually become messy again over time.

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Information vs. Communication

The debate over whether the Internet is good or bad for us fills the airwaves and the blogosphere with people loudly proclaiming their opinions on both sides. Douglas Rushkoff  believes the argument is essentially beside the point: it’s here, it’s everywhere, and it is here to stay. The real question in his mind is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it?

“Choose the former and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”

Rushkoff wrote a chapter on what he calls the “Information Arms Race” in the book Communication and Cyberspace: Social Interaction in an electronic Age, and in this capter he discusses the differences between information and communication. He believes that television broadcasting, radio news, magazines and books are not forms of communication because they are one-way distributions of content. However vital, realistic, or engaging a movie or book is, it is not interactive or participatory in any real sense. Unless we can have just as much of an effect on the director, writer, producer, or journalist as they have had on us, we are not involved in communication. We are merely recipients of programming. In this sense, in order for communication to occur there has to be participation between two or more equals.

The internet has become a mass media that no longer favors broadcasters. It has been a true communications tool from the start because it is just as much about sending as receiving. With new media such as Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and other various forms of blogging, all types of communication are possible:

iStock_000011296304XSmall1[1]– one to one

– one to many

– many to many

The internet began as a text based medium that was less about information and more about contact. Networked through wires and computers, an Internet community emerged that was a living cultural experiment- that we now are a part of. It was as if the human race was being hardwired into a single, global brain that mirrored ideas like the Gaia Hypothesis, which is the notion that all living things are part of the same big organism.

The question for many money seeking professionals soon became “How do we turn this communications method into a controllable mass medium?” We all know that the answer soon became clear: replace communication with information. Enter:The World Wide Web. Created in 1190 by Tim Burners Lee as a system of interlinked hyper text as a “read-only” web.

Informing ourselves to death?

No, but maybe informing ourselves to several growing health problems.

There have been growing concerns about how our new found love (and possibly obsession) for all these new sources of information may be causing harm to our bodies. This Chicago Tribune article on how night time exposure the light emitted from the screens of our phones, tablets and computers can be liked to insomnia. Another article from CNN reaffirms these notions that the specific “blue lights” from screens, and even the light from bulbs around our houses can mess with our biological clocks.

SleepingDesk

American Medical Association issued a policy recognizing “that exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents.” The blue light emitted from these screens has been shown to suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and is not produced during the day. Your brain is more alert when the nerve endings are reacting to this light and then your brain thinks it is daytime because we have evolved as a species to only see bright light during the day. The newer electronic screens that we have come accustomed to bringing to bed are positioned close to our faces, increasing their intensity and effects.

Computer Vision Syndrome is another one of the main health problems that has been linked to over exposure to mediated screens.

Although cyber culture has rapidly become an important part of our lives and has helped bring about many of the conveniences we enjoy throughout our daily lives, it is a new sector of society that must be analyzed critically in order to maintain awareness and control of its effects on  us. However, we can’t deny the countless amazing feats of the computer industry that have brought us all kinds of life improvements, and that is definitely cause for some celebration.

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