Mindfulness and Information Overload

What if people began to reject their smartphones from one day to another? A challenging article by Jürgen von Rutenberg published in the German Zeit Magazin (16th July 2015, “Zurück in die Gegenwart“) explores alternative voices that try to overcome the alleged information overload by forms of life always connected to the internet.

Following the article’s main conclusions, many people and professionals (i.e. psychologists, public health workers, etc.) worry about increasing forms of addiction to “stay connected”. In order to stimulate a new movement that seeks to emancipate internet users from their devices and the pressure to communicate, some projects put into the fore how important “analogue life” is for personal health and human-human relations.

Jürgen von Rutenberg mentions the art project SEYMOUR+ in Paris where visitors have to leave their smartphones and other devices before entering a space that stirs reflection (see site). The Berlin based author Andre Wilkens published a book on why he considers the “analogue movement” the “new organic movement” (see site).

What do the worries about “information overload” implicate for the digital humanities movement? It’s a complex matter, and still, I think academics and publishers have to reflect on why communication tools and participatory platforms might also harm people in what they consider decent and “the right information at the right time”. Ultimately, it’s a call to re-consider how mechanisms of publicity and marketing try to catch attention and – above all, the control of money influx. Without abandoning the internet altogether, academics may not forget the backdrop of their field of work: long and difficult research processes, peer criticism and usually a humble professional standing in society. In a sense, the promise of digital humanities could be to take part in the design of contents that make people feel interested and attentive – say, to foster those parts of daily internet communication flows that help to broaden our thoughtful understandings of the world, without neglecting what we humans obvious and essentially need: engagement and prospect. Above all, any effort in that field must be aware of its medium, even when the later might not always be visible as such.

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