My 2017 essay for Document Journal on information overload is now online:
Critics of democracy have long lamented that people know too little about politics, but today we have more news and information available to us than at any moment in history.
I, for instance, start and end my days with Twitter: The ongoing stream of information it provides about the world is a relentless and sometimes oppressive presence in my life. Even my less politically obsessed friends and family members now find that the news has become an ongoing part of their days via the Facebook posts, push alerts, and other manners information finds its way to the devices and screens that surround us.
They aren't unique. According to a study from Pew Research Center in July 2016, 38 percent of American adults say they often get their news online. In particular, more than seven in 10 people get some of this information on their mobile devices, which have brought the news into parts of our day to day lives where it used to be largely invisible. Similarly, nearly 60 percent of adults say they often or sometimes watch cable news, which increasingly permeates common spaces like airports and coffee shops, making the news harder to escape even if we do not seek it out.
At a personal level, these trends can be discomforting. Surveys sponsored by the American Psychological Association found that people who frequently check online information sources are especially stressed. Though it is impossible to separate cause and effect in these data, it is noteworthy that approximately four in 10 of those "constant checkers" cite political and cultural controversies as a specific cause of stress. Overall, 57 percent of Americans report that the political climate is very or somewhat stressful. What is understood even less is how this deluge of information is affecting our lives as citizens. Are we truly better informed? Or are we becoming a nation of political amnesiacs, stumbling blindly from one breaking news event and meme to the next?