Just a Click Away

Complaints about information overload, usually couched in terms of the overabundance of books, have a long history — reaching back to Ecclesiastes 12:12 (“of making books there is no end,” probably from the 4th or 3rd century BC).  The ancient moralist Seneca complained that “the abundance of books is distraction” in the 1st century AD, and there have been other info-booms from time to time — the building of the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC, or the development of newspapers starting in the 18th century.

The printing press was first developed around 1453; Gutenberg’s new technology moved beyond the experimental phase by 1480 and spread to some two dozen major urban centres, plus there were other short-lived presses in operation from time to time.  Contemporaries at first raved about the great speed with which books could be printed, and also about the drop in price — by 80% on one contemporary’s estimate in 1468.  But around 1500, humanist scholars began to bemoan new problems: printers in search of profit, they complained, rushed to print manuscripts without attention to the quality of the text, and the sheer mass of new books distracted readers from the focus on the ancient authors most worthy of attention.  Printers “fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libellous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness,” wrote Erasmus in the early 16th century, in the kind of tirade that might seem familiar to anyone exhausted by what they find online today.

FK – I once read and forwarded or linked to, up to 50 emails, usually long articles, a day. No more.