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March 15, 2004 | by  | in News |
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Ockham’s Razor

I feel hamstrung by today’s excess of information.

For every high school massacre and suburban riot, news crews camp out and flood our screens and pages with post-mortems and finger-pointing.

Celebrities are deemed news in themselves, entire shows revolve around their routines, their houses, their bank balances. It’s mostly just addictive recycling – talking about actors rather than characters seems like another failure of our media to pierce the surface of things. E! has almost single-handedly manufactured the deity that is Paris Hilton (I promise that is the last time I mention her name this year, but she is the harbinger of a new age of information pollution).

The junk information assault is not merely the fault of the news media, not by a long shot. The Internet has elevated trivia to new heights. Every episode of every season of every version of Star Trek is synopsised, screencap’d and stored online for those who want it. Think of how much information is suspended in the web – how many bogus urban legends, half-baked theories and crap homemade dance music – most of it should be culled.

Until recently, humankind’s systems for storing information across the ages have had inbuilt mechanisms for limiting how much gets through. Storytellers can only remember so many fables. Tombs can only carry so much engraving. Libraries can only hold so many books, only the popular remaining on the shelves come the great literary stocktake. My question is, when will the internet face its great stocktake?

For those of us choosing to live this life afloat rather than asunder, the time has arrived when we must say ‘enough!’ Enough presidential controversies. Enough Jenny from the Block. It is time for some Strategic Solipsism. It is time for Ockham’s Razor!

Cue backstory: William of Ockham was an English philosopher and Franciscan monk in the 14th Century who proposed that ‘entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily’. This maxim, Ockham’s Razor, encourages one to shave away excess details when tackling a problem. Now to me, that sounds just like genius. Fuck, gimme Ockham’s Chainsaw so I can rid myself of the trivial, the transient and the downright trashy details of this day and age.

Anything that doubles up on what’s already out there, anything derivative – swipe – gone. If our grand database of information will not hold a stocktake, I must. If our modes of communicating ‘news’ will not discern important from imbecile, I must. I’ll still be reading books and watching films, I just won’t listen to the Hollywood hype machines, only people I trust. I’ll only absorb news of immediate personal importance. Any news peripheral to my daily existence will be ignored.

Although this may seem like giving in to apathy, it is actually a counter-measure. To mind, the only way to reignite passion in this life is looking to the personal, the everyday. Seeing live bands, playing a close game of basketball, looking at pretty girls… I shall build a base of simple pleasures, which I may one day care enough about protecting to stand up for. Until then, I won’t protest in order to defend what I cannot fathom.

The great irony is, of course, with all this information – so much of it flotsam and jetsam – here am I, spieling. It is a strange gift you, my reader, grant me. Reading this instead of Robert Frost or Virgil. You could be watching movies for free in the AV suite. You could be making love to freedom-crazed first-years.
I am so sorry.

But if you have made it this far, perhaps I have struck a chord. If so, feel free to email me with your thoughts and ideas for future columns <(ockhamsrazor [at] paradise.net.nz>). And of course watch out for this fortnightly column, where I’ll trace my attempts to reintroduce magic into our hectic, gluggy lives.

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