When we think about addiction, we tend to focus on things like drugs, tobacco, alcohol, even sex. We don't often worry about addiction to information.
As all addicts know, the difference between moderation and addiction usually correlates directly with ease of access. Drinking, for example, is much easier when there's a bottle of Jack Daniels in the kitchen cabinet. So what about the ease with which we now obtain information - some of it useful, much of it not?
Here's a scenario drawn from my own experience as an info-addicted baseball fan. If baseball isn't your thing, just substitute the stock market, auctions on eBay, Facebook messages - whatever you love to hate every time you succumb to an information overdose.
As a San Francisco Giants follower, I enjoy watching games on television, which on average takes three hours. With cable-TV, there's also a half-hour pregame show, and a half-hour of postgame analysis.
Typically, I'll read about the game in two or three sports sections the next morning. That puts me at roughly 4.5 hours per day which, until the Internet took hold, was still manageable. Nowadays, however, baseball beat writers like Andrew Baggarly, who covers the Giants for the San Jose Mercury News, go online three hours before game time. They Tweet the starting lineup and then blog about the manager's plans, after which dozens of fans post messages in reply.
To a lurker like me, it's a serious waste of time, but I can't turn it off. After the game, Baggarly writes a quick game story for the paper's early edition, a detailed story for the late edition, a "Notebook" column which is available online, and then he writes a postgame blog for the most addicted among his followers.
As the night wears on, fans post dozens of replies to Baggarly's notes. A few are insightful, while many are like this from "Poop" after a recent Giants' loss: "Blah blah hate sabean (the Giants' GM).blah blah baggs (Baggarly) is a 'company' guy blah blah.i hate life blahblah."
But then there are some like "Shades of 93" who wrote: "thanks Baggs. I can't sleep at night unless I can read the Post Game Notes. You are awesome."
So while it's comforting to know I'm not the only one losing sleep while compulsively hitting the refresh button to see the next post, I feel guilty, and addicted. Back in the days when baseball lineups were not readily available until a few minutes before the first pitch, I got along just fine. Of course, my Mom used to tell me that before television she got along fine listening to radio. Each generation has to adapt - to both the negatives and positives that its technology provides.
But multiply my addiction by not only millions of baseball fans, but by countless others who text, Tweet and blog their way through hour after hour in search of the latest information about, well, pretty much everything.
Jonah Lehrer, author of the book "How We Decide," points out, "My salient fact is your irrelevant bit; your necessary detail is my triviality. Here's the paradox of curiosity: I only want to know more about that which I already know about."
What I resent most about my info addiction is that it doesn't make me any smarter, even about baseball. And it doesn't make me happier; just edgy about what I might be missing if I tune out. I also suspect that spending so much time on the digital treadmill doesn't do Baggerly's reporting much good either.
Another thing my mother often says is that people who work in candy stores usually eat so much candy during the first few days simply because it's available, that they get sick and lose their taste for it. I think her point is that I'd be thinner if I ate less candy.
I'm sure I'd be better off if I spent fewer hours fussing about baseball. And I believe we'll all be better off when, on some occasions, we confront the useless information we crave by just saying no.
Peter Funt may be reached at: www.CandidCamera.com.
©2010 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail [email protected].
Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.