As Berreby points out, people tend to take the view that their current situation is unique in history. He shows that the idea that life is speeding up, that too much information is being produced, is an old one, dating back to the start of the twentieth century and before. The assumption that there is more information nowadays is dubious, and reflects our personal feelings about the world around us.
I wonder how much of the belief people have that 'things are getting worse' comes from a selection effect, in that they tend to compare the world with what they remember from their youth – a time when they were healthier, more optimistic and had less responsibility.
Without having people to review old texts, like Berreby has done in this essay, it is easy to fall into the trap of making baseless assumptions about the present. With the current attacks on the humanities in UK universities, we could easily lose an important perspective about the scale of the changes in the world around us.
What if the amount of information in the world is a constant?If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list