Thank you, Dana Priest, for helping me relate my last few posts back to national security. I have expressed my concern that when individuals try to learn by consuming vast amounts of scattershot information, it actually rewires our brains and hinders learning and critical thinking. One thread of Priest’s article shows how this is happening on a bureaucratic level with the runaway, uncontrolled growth of the US intelligence community. Government officials are expected to absorb a tidal wave of information, and it’s getting worse all the time. One officer recounts that:
for his initial briefing [on classified programs] he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table, and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled “Stop!” in frustration. “I wasn’t remembering any of it,” he said.
Another intelligence officer explains his frustration:
… he began scrolling through some of the classified information he is expected to read every day: CIA World Intelligence Review, WIRe-CIA, Spot Intelligence Report, Daily Intelligence Summary, Weekly Intelligence Forecast, Weekly Warning Forecast, IC Terrorist Threat Assessments, NCTC Terrorism Dispatch, NCTC Spotlight… It’s too much, he complained. The inbox on his desk was full, too. He threw up his arms, picked up a thick, glossy intelligence report and waved it around, yelling… the overload of hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and annual reports is actually counterproductive, say people who receive them.
The problem is made worse by the redundancy and uselessness of much of this information. If you tie this back to Nicholas Carr’s article and book, forcing our intelligence officials to consume such a vast amount of information might have consequences beyond straining their time… in some ways, it might actually decrease overall learning. It also might damage their ability to construct the analytical frameworks necessary to process and synthesize this information.
And on the related subject of how the Web 2.0 age might be destroying our humanity and reducing us to mindless automatons, check out this advertisement that appeared on my Facebook page today. God help us.