The phenomenon of information overload is widely acknowledged now. But I fear that its equally malign twin, opinion overload, is just as active. The truth is that the explosion of 24 hour news media alongside the internet not only thrusts vast amounts of information into your head, it also gets close to deafening you with the clamour of thousands of voices telling you what they think about the last ministerial gaffe or the latest factoid to emerge from some research project.
Take one casual look at the headlines on The Guardian website’s widely read Comment is Free page and it’s easy to feel bombarded by a welter of perspectives. For example, today I am told that Fabio Capello doesn’t understand the John Terry affair, that it’s good that a Bristol ‘breastaurant’ is closing down, that a corporate merger threatens the world’s poorest, that the Metropolitan Police raids on gangs are just a PR stunt, that Mitt Romney will still win the primaries, that the energy industry are climate change deniers and so on and on.
Of course if I really want to gorge myself on opinion I can read the thousands of comments below each piece. I can even have a look at the online poll to see if the majority of Comment is Free readers agree with the assertion that bankers’ bonuses are just like penis extensions (seriously).
And that’s just one page of one site of one online newspaper. You can take your pick of any number of media outlets to confirm or outrage your own particular world view. There’s also the countless blogs you can visit for further opinion mongering. Plus, of course, dear old Twitter - the automatic assault rifle of opinion, firing out hot little bullets of assertion at a thousand rounds per second.
I first began to feel the force of this polemical tsunami during the riots last Summer. As soon as it became clear that this was a major event, it seemed that half the country took to their blogs and tweetdecks to tell the world what had caused the trouble. Cuts. Family breakdown. Gangs. Consumerism. Poverty. Schools. Hip Hop. Everyone had a view. But, of course, no-one could possibly have hard evidence to support these rock solid claims because the phenomenon had only existed for 24 hours.
I could tell you categorically what I think opinion overload is doing to our society but that would be gross hypocrisy. To be fair I’m already pretty much up to my neck in hypocrisy given that I am far from averse from expressing my own forceful opinion all over the place. In fact, it’s even worse than that: I was paid for five years of my life to persuade the world that my employers’ opinions were superior to everyone else’s.
So what I’ll do instead is tell you what opinion overload is doing to me. I do, at least, have reasonable access to the main subject of my research on this one. It makes me tired. It often feels like being at a five year old's birthday party with too many kids squashed into too small a space about ten minutes after the chocolate ice cream has kicked in. Too many voices, demanding too many things, too noisily.
I don’t pretend that forceful, biased assertion is something I’ve only just discovered but I used to have the odd ill-informed political row with a mate, digest the comment pages of one daily newspaper and listen to a couple of talking heads on the Today programme. Now it’s everywhere. Opinion seems to be the swirling, inescapable, flock wallpaper of my life. It’s a quantity not a quality issue.
So, it would be jolly nice if everyone could go on an opinion strike for one day a month and refuse to express a view about anything anywhere. I've no perspective on whether it would do you or the world any good but it would make me feel better. Just a request not a firm recommendation.