Too Much Information.
Updated: Oct 20
It occurred to me recently how obsessed with are with predictions. I don’t mean opportunistic fortune telling or nonsense soothsaying, but a palpable new desire to have as much control over the future as possible. I say ‘new’, but we’ve always had an element of it. It’s why the weather forecast has been amongst the consistently most important topics in this country since time immemorial. Irrespective of how quickly cows run to the corner of fields, pink skies appear at night, spiders hot-foot it out of webs, or how many times the meteorologists get it wrong, we will second guess, speculate in post office queues, go out foolishly without a coat, or feel smug when we predicted snow and stockpiled slice pans. We just want to know.
The Internet brought “wanting to know” to a whole new level. It’s predicting, self-diagnosing and second-guessing gone mad, and it will do it on our behalf whether we like it or not. It’s why the pop-up and banner ads will always be relevant to you (aside from those hundred euro slippers which have been stalking me for over a year now; I see you, and I will never buy you, no matter how damn comfortable and soft you look). In the lead up to my wedding, I searched for all things matrimony online, and for months, the ads I saw bombarded me with ideas for things I didn’t know I didn’t need, from chair covers and eco-friendly favours, to hair accoutrements and baskets of flip flops for the bathroom. About a year after I was married, the ads suddenly switched to baby and pregnancy paraphernalia, and I mustn’t have engaged or reacted enough, because a year after that, they all switched to ads for fertility clinics and online IVF support. The Internet is the ultimate tool for a generation that wants control, and if you don’t play ball, it will happily decide for you.
There are apps that predict when your next period is due, and women rejoice and wonder what they ever did before (I admit they’re handy, but didn’t we just write the dates down somewhere before?), apps that tell you when you may need more milk, others that let you gamble on anything – I mean anything – at all. There is a new app that lets you register your predictions and then tracks your accuracy (so you can prove to your friends that you predicted Trump would flee to Mexico in 2019). The most disquieting one I’ve stumbled across is the “Death Calculator App” which with the smallest amount of information (and not a mention of cholesterol), predicts when you will die. Although the small print does claim “This is a fun app!” so perhaps don’t rush out to buy life assurance based on the results (apropos of the small print, there is no aspect of a death calculator which I would describe as “fun”).
I spoke to an older man recently who said he didn’t understand the younger generation’s obsession with information he felt they didn’t really need. Why not use that headspace for music, laughter and dessert he thought? He asked me how well I slept, and when I said terribly, he replied that he has always fallen sound asleep the minute his head hits the pillow, and maybe it was down to all the worry I’m causing myself that’s keeping me awake. He may have a point. Now that I think about it, I believe there’s a sleep app to calculate how much shuteye you’re getting, and can predict how much more you need – maybe I need to download that. Or maybe the laughter would be a better option, as I don’t really need an app to tell me I need more sleep; the ever-increasing eye bags are doing a very good job of that for me.
As I was writing this article, I thought I should have a go at the death calculator app for research purposes, and the results were alarming. But then the slipper ad popped up again, so maybe they’re in cahoots with death. I’d better buy a pair just to be safe.
Originally published in Image Magazine, April 2018