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‘The Second Age of Reason’ Balanced with Compassion!

By Syed Khurshid Hussain

Second Age of Reason

With Guru Google, one can ask information about any “subject or thing on the earth and get 174000 results in 0.4 seconds.”

Recently, I happened to read an interesting article from the September 2014 issue in Time magazine, titled “The Second Age of Reason” by Michael Grunwald. He half-heartedly declares that “information overload will improve our lives’”. The author is honest in informing us about the collateral damage, this overload can cause. The answers issue boasts of your guide to everything you did not know you NEED to know. Albert Einstein in his statement about the wonders of knowing divided it into four parts and the uppermost part in his mind was about knowledge of things “I don’t even know I don’t know”.

Grunwald talks about all the trivia in life; however, he hardly addresses other needs of human beings to keep his mind and body in a holistic balance.

Explanation of the Age of Information

Today with our phenomenal IT advancement Grunwald says, “with a smartphone in our pocket, we can access to billions of times information as was held in all the libraries of the earth in Seneca’s day.”

With Guru Google, one can ask information about any “subject or thing on the earth and get 174000 results in 0.4 seconds.” The author accepts the deficits of this “age of reasoning” and admits that information is not knowledge or wisdom, and data can mislead. Internet’s lack of filters or referees is a big problem and can give free field for misinformation. In this revolution the collateral damage is huge and a damage is a damage. He states: “Wikipedia killed encyclopedia, apps killed maps and Craigslist killed classified ads in newspapers. Loss of privacy can be very embarrassing and a security risk. Your digital footprints are permanent… Middlemen and gate-keepers, travel agents, real estate agents are eliminated and are things of the past. Bookstores and boutiques are gobbled up by Amazon.”

Today Data management has become a big industry. However, the invasion of our brain space with cyberspace is no small matter: our brain’s storage capacity is limited (roughly 100 billion neurons). For the sake of argument, say that is equivalent to one million gigabytes of hard disc space. This type of information overload can wreak havoc on the brain.

Most of information and interaction is frankly dumb and distracting, celebrity trivia and other clickbait. Pop-up ads, internet hoaxes, and hackers are hardly significant and very inconvenient.

Instant access to infinite information! Without wisdom? It is like garbage or junk food which does not give any nutrition. We have to seriously think about mental hygiene if we want to remain sane!

The most serious damage this instant information can cause is to our teens and youths, who have had no basic education yet, and who have a fluid sense of self. They are still in the process of formation. Imagine what sort of persons will comprise our future generation upon being given this power before they know how to process and prioritize it?

The information age brings an age in which without a calculator we cannot do any sums. Nothing remains accessible by memory alone. Without all these gadgets, we are helpless as a new-born baby.

The Impact of Information and the Spiritual Realm

Michael Grunwald states, “This Digital Tsunami—-Big Data–better tools for slicing and dicing data, our world’s computing power is expanding 10,000 percent every decade… the most exciting about our age of information—age of Answers, is its potential to change the quality of our life.”

I beg to disagree— quality of our life? We must question who belongs in this collective “our” with such environmental disasters, wars and destruction and disease in the vast majority of the world’s population. We are talking about the physical quality of life of only a privileged minority of humanity. We have no concern about the quality of morals, consciences, and souls of people–if we have any belief system. We are not considering humans as a whole.

The author finally admits about his personal life, “Until it occurred to me that no dating app would have paired me with my wife…. no algorithm could have predicted our great optimization. The cost of the age of answers- we have lost our serendipity. We gravitate toward online cocoons of like-minded people who don’t challenge our assumptions.”

What about the serious things in life? Is ‘information’ all and everything for our life here on this planet? Often, information can distract from the more substantial things: your emotions, love, passions and nature’s gift of transcending this material world. We have lost curiosity for the invisible world, and lessons of guidance. People no longer think and feel about the inhabitants of the earth and future of mankind.

I propose that we don’t let the inundation of information prevent us from experiencing and acting on love, mercy, pity, and compassion for every living being. Information must lead to self-realization and transformation of Man as a human being, a higher level in the process of evolution.

German philosophers, such as Hokheiner and Theodore W. Adorno, critiqued of the “age of reasoning or enlightenment,” arguing that rationality in the absence of love and passion can lead to barbarism and fascism.

The poet of the East, Dr. Iqbal, said in a verse “you are a passionate traveler of the Universe, do not accept any final destination; do not accept any Heart which is a slave to intelligence.”

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Taken with due reference from Grunwald, Michael. “The Second Age of Reason” The Answers Issue. Time Magazine. August 28th, 2014.

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