Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Too Much Information

I know that we are living in the information age, but I think there are times when it's TMI (too much information). I may be a minority here but I'm really not interested in knowing about the private lives of public figures. For example, I have not been nor will I ever be interested in whether David Letterman had sex with women he works with. Call me old fashioned but I think that is between him and his wife and is none of my business.

It seems to me that in the current tell-all, blog-all, tweet-all culture we have, the question of whether we should know so much about the private lives of public figures doesn't get asked. I understand that there can be value in getting some of this information. For example, learning about the various scandals of politicians may empower me to cast an informed vote. Hearing about the latest antics of some star or starlet may provide a cautionary tale that prompts me to look at my own behavior or perhaps avoid a bad decision.

However, I think that there may be a dark side to even well-intentioned spreading of information about the private lives of public figures. First, I believe some of the desire to know such things about them is because we view their humiliation as entertainment. Not exactly good for the soul.

"Speak no evil, that thou mayest not hear it spoken unto thee, and magnify not the faults of others that thine own faults may not appear great; and wish not the abasement of anyone, that thine own abasement be not exposed." (Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

In addition, much of this information overload encourages a kind of media-driven, nationwide session of gossip and backbiting which are likewise spiritually unhealthy.

"Remember, above all, the teaching of Bahá'u'lláh concerning gossip and unseemly talk about others. Stories repeated about others are seldom good. A silent tongue is the safest. Even good may be harmful, if spoken at the wrong time, or to the wrong person." (Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 124)

On the flip side, public figures sharing incredibly personal things has become a kind of ritual. These days rather than a confidential visit to a priest you put your stuff out on Facebook ,or Youtube, or go on national television and say things that probably should have been kept to yourself.

"...such confession before people results in one's humiliation and abasement, and God -- exalted be His glory -- wisheth not the humiliation of His servants." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 24)

I think our society is losing any sense of what we really need to know about others and what others really need to know about us. If so, what might that mean for our souls? What would it be like if the private lives of public figures stayed a little more private?


  1. Anonymous11:23 PM

    I agree, there's often way "too much information" nowadays. And what passes for "celebrity" in America now is often lamentable. We just need to ignore the garbage, for the most part, if we're fortunate enough to be aware that we were all created noble.

    But in this case, Letterman only did what he had to do after attempted blackmail -- there was no way he could have gone without addressing it publicly in some way, as it was going to be all over the news anyway -- and IMHO he's handling the regrettable situation beautifully. You won't see him being interviewed about it. In his own way, he is trying to take the high road now. He has said, among other things that "he has his work cut out for him" insofar as trying to heal his relationship with his wife. He knows there's no excuse for what he's done, but he can't change the past, so he's trying to be honorable, responsible, and, dare I say, virtuous, going forward. Isn't that pretty much what Baha'is would do?

  2. Hello,

    As a former 25 year mormon and now student of the Baha'i Faith, I have to admit that I totally agree with you.

  3. Anonymous, I hear what you're saying, but I'm actually trying to shift the conversation from Letterman to the rest of us. If people's private lives were not constantly turned into a media circus the threat of blackmail wouldn't be much of a threat. Imagine a world where the blackmailer's efforts would have been met with a collective yawn from both the media and the public, where we all said, you know what, it's none of our business? My point is that right now such a world is not imaginable for most of us because the notion that anything is none of our business is eroding steadily.

    Miguel, as a current Baha'i of 12 years I can tell you that I am still a "student" of the Baha'i Faith. There's no graduation date. Oh and welcome to the blog.

  4. Hi Phillipe,

    I certainly agree with you on that one and I tend to believe that we are actually not a minority. I think most people would agree, they just have not thought about it yet.

    We lose our sense for meaningful conversations and news due to this ever growing pool of gossip, which becomes more and more normal as media allows for distance. If I "confess" online I don't see the reader, I might not know the reader and I might never know who has actually read it - but I got it off my soul. To free the soul from any kind of burden (elsewhere than with a priest who knows you and your family) becomes increasingly important to people I find. Not only in order to do what everybody else already does, but also because with all the gossip thrown onto us, we need an outlet ourselves.

    To me this is the dark side (one of them) of our media (www.)-age. We forget more and more and faster than ever before what is really important in life. The heart to heart connection gets lost and with it our sense for humility, respect and detachment.

  5. Nadine thanks for weighing in from Poland. It will be interesting to see what we learn as the psychological, social and spiritual implications of the information age are explored scientifically in the future. We may be surprised what we find out, good and bad.