It’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed by all the information the Internet can supply on any given topic, let alone all its information combined. And while it might be small consolation, your sense of frustration has been shared by some of the most brilliant and creative minds in history. “As early as 1550, the Italian writerAnton Francesco Doniwas complaining that there were ‘so many books that we do not even have time to read the titles.’ The 17th century’s Comenius referred to granditas librorum— the ‘vast quantity of books’ — andBasnageto the ‘flood.'”
What’s the Big Idea?
For Percy Shelley, the 19th century poet, dramatist, novelist and critic, the presence of too much information was a brute fact. In 1821, while penning his A Defense of Poetry, Shelley found an antidote to the numbing drive for information. “We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest.” For Shelly, the poetic faculty acted as a filter, ultimately saving us from our coarser selves. Today, we must find knowledge in data, and then wisdom in knowledge.
So deeply rooted, says Tom Doctoroff, is the Western belief in individual freedom, that it is nearly impossible for us to accept the fact that in Chinese culture, the individual does not exist outside of her network of familial and communal obligations.