Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Too Much News: Deprivation by Surfeit

A book I once wrote argued we were being stuffed with information but starved for understanding. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker have just spent two days making the point with a ribbon on it.

After all the graphs, statistics, anecdotes and guarded generalizations, they did not, could not answer the only questions that matter: When will this war end, and is it making us any safer from terrorism?

Two of our best and brightest public servants responded with the classic waiter’s shrug, “That’s not my table.”

In the last century, social critic Lewis Mumford pointed out that, although science and technology assume constantly increasing consumption of goods and knowledge is desirable, it can lead to “deprivation by surfeit.”

With concentration on speed and productivity, Mumford wrote, “we have ignored the need for evaluation, correction, selection and social assimilation.”

Today’s journalism and politics validate his theory as clearly as do the clogging of our highways and the overwhelming of air-traffic control. We are in a hurry to get somewhere without being sure of the destination and how to get there without falling over one another.

Sorting it all out used to be called leadership, but that is the only product in short supply.

No comments: