What information consumes

In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

~ Herbert Simon


It may be, as he says, obvious to Simon, but it really was not obvious to me. Until I read this I had always thought of myself as giving, or perhaps spending, my time on information. In recent years I’ve begun reminding anyone who’ll listen, that we all have large Oxo grips that extend from the ancient systems cobbled together which today form our intelligence, our fear, and our psyche. It’s easy to grab someone by those handles and lead them. That’s fine because everyone doesn’t try to grab me by those Oxo handles. But software is good at grabbing those handles. Hardware is good at it. And companies run by people who haven’t thought through the morality of what they’re building using software and hardware are really good at it.

So when I read Simon’s comment about information consuming my attention. I sat bolt-upright.

…and then I renewed by efforts to swat away anything that I catch gazing lasciviously at my weaknesses.