My studies have led to this theory I’d like to share with you. Like all theories it sprang into being to answer some question. In this case the question was, “How is it that the human race has managed to bungle things to quite this degree?”
In short, my theory is that it’s Acceleritis™ — a pandemic shock reaction to information overload.
For years we media researchers have been estimating how many ads a person sees in a given day. Ed Papazian did it and so did I. Not hard, given that monitoring and rating services provide benchmarks for making macro estimates.
I added the notion of estimating the other events impinging on consciousness in everyman’s and everywoman’s typical day. There I used a reducing rule (for ads too), that to qualify as experiential, the event would have to be consciously noticed by consciousness. This can be measured by EEG P300 waves — the brain signature for noticing that some sensory information differs from expectation. The challenging ethnographic research is yet to be done (and can never measure the past), but some preliminary estimates have been made.
Imagine being a shepherd a mere 400 years ago. The P300 waves you would normally get in a day would be centered around human interactions, and even those would tend to be predictable, and so you could go through quite a few human interactions with familiar people without any P300 waves. Sometimes animal life, the weather, plant life, the stars and moon would do unpredictable things, though less often than people are unpredictable. Rarely, there would be something truly extraordinary like a plague or an invasion that would give you a huge spike in P300 waves.
Making assumptions such as these we began to cautiously construct the graph below. The numbers are undoubtedly wrong but are probably directionally right.
With the vertical scale having to deal in large numbers because of the recent past, the small numbers of daily P300s is so low that it’s hard to see a line until after the printing press. As the population makes a startling shift to big cities in the first half of the 20th Century, and as cinema, radio, newspapers, magazines, and outdoor signs proliferate, the rate goes up to est. 3000 noticed events per day by 1950. Something like 500 of these being ads. Another 1500 or so being evoked by media program/editorial portions — mostly radio and print at that time.
From 1950-1990 TV, with its dominance of nonworking awake time, brings the pressure up to est. 15,000. From 1990-2010 the ubiquitous Internet and Mobile, plus the cultural shift to multitasking, raises it to an est. 40,000.
This is 1000X higher than when we started "texting" only 6000 years ago. Prior to text (written language) our oral-only language was a powerful communication tool, allowing us to cooperate in the hunt to become initially successful as a warrior race (at war initially with predators), and to cooperate in tool development. Written language then moved language into the visual sense, which happens to be the dominant sense of all primates including the apes and us. This effectively kicked off Acceleritis.
In the last 6000 years — a mere 300 generations — we have been inventing things at an accelerated rate, and these things now change society more than once a year — sometimes it feels like once a day, and it seems to be headed there.
This is why I consider psychotechnology, which prepares people with techniques to stay focused through complexity, to be so important.