Evidence of the Information Age


The abundance of screens in today’s world is startling.  Small screens like cell phones and tablets are carried with us everywhere.  Computer screens are common in work settings and public places like libraries.  Then there’s the television for watching the news or movies.  Even billboards have turned into huge screens that flash advertisements at us as we drive to the store. What is even more mind-boggling is that behind each and every one of those screens is some kind of computing device.  One way of interpreting this proliferation of video displays is to conclude that we truly have arrived at the information age.

It is estimated that the average American consumer is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements each day.  The large-format screens in most retail stores are run by tv advertising software that controls the kinds of messages displayed. New levels of sophistication are being explored to creatively develop content that can compete with the other 3,999 marketing messages we see daily. Information, it seems, has become a currency of sorts. How we manage and interpret the vast quantities of information we’re exposed to is an interesting field of study.

Marvelous Minds

The human brain has been described as the most complex thing we know of in the universe. Scientists estimate that there something like 86 billion nerve cells in the human brain. All of that information processing hardware gets put to the test keeping up with the volumes of data we are exposed to. Some networks of neurons in the brain are used to interpret sensory inputs. Still, others are capable of deliberation, memory formation and decision making.  The basic brain networks are largely determined by the genetics of a developing embryo. Beyond those simple frameworks, more complex circuits in the brain are influenced by environmental conditions. Additional creation and modification of networks are accomplished by processing information from our senses.

Making Decisions

How do we decide whether to choose the salty or the sweet snack in the store? A specific area of the frontal lobe has been identified as being critical to making decisions. Studying patients who had specific brain injuries led scientists to this discovery. While the specific area was shown to be most critical in the decision-making process, researchers also noted that other networks may be activated during certain kinds of decision-making tasks. These could be memories or logical circuits for quick mental math to figure out which choice is the best bargain.

Managing massive amounts of information daily has become a reality in modern life. Fortunately, our brains are wired with plenty of processing hardware to handle the job. Now that is really something to think about!