The Information Paradox


What Is The Information Paradox?

The Information Paradox you’ll read about here has nothing to do with quantum mechanics or relativity. If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest you try looking elsewhere​.

The Information Paradox is about a set of phenomena that I believe haunt our every experience while online. They are distortions in the digital environment that have the potential to create significant unintended consequences. The Information Paradox is about waking up to the potential hazards these distortions cause and then taking action to mitigate or to avoid the most severe downsides.

I think there’s something that’s approaching the level of a crisis taking place. 

The Information Paradox

I call it The Information Paradox because when I think about what’s going on, so much of what’s happening seems upside down. For example, we are provided with free online services (like the services offered by Google) which given their utility look like what we’d all hope technology would deliver.

In reality, rather than benign technologies that serve our interests, many indulge in aggressive intrusions into our privacy. Corporations not only rapaciously extract personal data from us at every possible moment, but they have also industrialised the insights this data provides.

Their purpose is not just to forecast with increasing precision what our future spending decisions will be; they also seek to drive our behaviour actively toward them.

Here’s another paradox. The internet provides everyone with general access to a rich diversity of opinion. Accompanying the proliferating sounds of fury that emanate from every social media platform, what we are witnessing is an increased tendency to fence things off.

Many people now understand what’s happening in the world through the filter of whatever curated news feed they receive. This filtering effect helps explain phenomena recently reported by YouGov which discovered in a recent poll that only 66% of millennial Americans firmly believe the world is round.

To the reported loss of trust in authority can be added a corresponding absence of critical reasoning. If everyone’s free to decide what’s true, then it’s no wonder that conspiracy theories can appear on the same plane as scientific evidence. Any blogger in search of an audience is suddenly operating in the same space as an investigative journalist working for a news outlet who’s entire existence depends on its reputation for honest reporting.

The WYSIATS Security Challenge

The Information Paradox also touches on a flaw in our mental operating system, one of Daniel Kahneman ’s heuristics; our tendency to assume that what we see is all there is.

We rarely witness the ever-present security risks. This lack of perspective leads to a complacency matched only by the increased opportunity for bad actors to wield malign influence on our lives.

Lack of security leaves the door open to a multitude of unwelcome possibilities from eavesdropping on your conversations to identity theft, raiding your bank account to holding you to ransom and many other nightmare possibilities realistically on the table.

The coming ubiquity of the Internet of Things is a signal for us to get our collective house in order.

The Battle For Your Attention

A final paradox. The convenience afforded by the internet has changed many of the services we use for the better. Online banking has transformed the ease with which we manage our financial affairs. If you can remember how in the past you were forced to take half a day off work to visit your local bank you know what I mean.

At the same time, the fact that everything’s always open is also a curse. There’s never a time when all the shops close online.

The always-on, fully connected environment we live in means that there’s a constant battle taking place to catch hold of your attention. Phones are beautifully designed to be addictive, as are the platforms they serve up — social media’s algorithms game our psychologies to arouse emotional responses geared toward attracting attention.

Then there’s the volume problem caused by the torrent of information that pours in. It can feel attritional even if all you’re doing is trying to stay on top of your emails.

The potential for information overload is why I think everyone needs to design a system to support a sane online presence.

Not everyone has 100,000 Twitter followers to engage with, nor would many people want that level of exposure. Everyone though has passwords to remember, documents and emails that need filing somewhere, and messages and emails to respond.

Without a system in place to handle things, it’s easy to succumb to a line of least resistance. At best this may cause an occasional surge of adrenaline when a deadline you’d forgotten suddenly looms large.

At worst, it leads to chronic stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed with misery and ill-health trailing in their wake.

In Conclusion

Here’s my recipe for a better online experience.

  1. Take some steps to protect your privacy. In subsequent posts I’m going to go into this a lot more detail, including my attempted Google detox.
  2. Build into your online devices essential security tools. I’ll outline some good options in another post.
  3. Be mindful about your critical reasoning. I’ll share thoughts about maintaining perspective.
  4. Finally, build a system to help you stay on organise your online existence, rather than defaulting to the reverse.

Can you help to raise awareness about the privacy and security issues I’ve discussed? If you’ve got some ideas to share about how to promote a more private, safer and saner online experience, please leave a comment below.

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