When I started thinking about this column, I was particularly tired.
Tired of writing, tired of reading.
I thought I’d start it with the catchy line, “Stop the information train — I want to get off.”
Now, though, I think it would be more apt to say, “The information train’s going to stop. And then we’re all going to be off.” (And not because the Earth’s magnetic poles are poised to flip, either. More on that later.)
I spend a fair amount of my working days writing — with a workload at my home newspaper of four columns and four editorials a week, I have to be. But I spend far more time reading and researching, and there has never been a better time, or a longer reach, for that reading.
We are in a golden age for information: in one day, for example, I got to read a 3,800-word piece in Quillette on why social shaming could actually create the kind of hateful ideologies the shaming wants to halt (“In Defense of Offense”), almost 8,000 words from Mother Jones (published in 2014) on the takeover of Newsweek magazine by a Christian sect called The Community “Who’s behind Newsweek?”), and a something-over-2,300-word New York Times piece on older Americans leaving traditional living arrangements to travel the country, living full time in converted vans and buses (“The Real Burning Man: What it’s like to be a ‘full-time hobo — and why people do it”).
I made my way through 1,100 words of a treatise on how the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s thinking can explain the doldrums of midlife (“How Schopenhauer’s thought can illuminate a midlife crisis") and agreed in many ways with 2,700 words’ worth of “Look at me: why attention-seeking is the defining need of our times” in The Guardian.
In all, my web history from one day lists 53 articles I read, from the involved to the ridiculous.
I learned not only that a Donkey Kong player classed as one of the best in the world had been stripped of his highest scores after it was determined he hadn’t been playing on the video game, but on a Donkey Kong emulator — and why using a game emulator would allow for cheating and higher scores.
And I learned that, in the video game Super Mario, the outlandish red and white ball atop the character Toad is, in fact, part of his head, not a hat.
But these riches can’t last.
It all makes me think of an article on single malt Scotch and the supply and demand equation I read in in the National Post in early January 2016 (“Drink ’em while you got ’em: It’s last call for the old whiskies, a victim of their own success”) by Adam McDowell.
The argument? That this is the golden age of single malts, but that it can’t last. With so many people seeking out rare whiskies, and with limited stocks and long lead-times to mature the spirits, whiskies that are affordable now will disappear from the market, as those with money drive up prices.
I think something of the reverse could happen in the golden age of information.
Information may have more reach than ever before, but people are often loath to pay even pennies for work that costs real money to produce. And without that money, the same kind of work can’t continue to be done.
Oh, and back to the Earth’s magnetic poles flipping?
I also read this week about the impending switch of the north and south magnetic poles — along with the suggestion that a coming switch could weaken the Earth’s magnetic field and allow solar flares to disrupt everything from long-term communication to power grids.
So maybe it’s all moot, anyway. But keep reading.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.