His worry was prescient. The news business has never been easy, but today the competition for an engaged audience is more difficult than ever before due to an unexpected rival: too much information.
In 2013, more data
had been created in the previous two years than in the entire previous history of the human race, according to SINTEF, a leading Norwegian research center. Since then, this number has exponentially increased, further diverting our attention and further underscoring the importance of the press, the gatekeepers of the First Amendment.
Every day the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes
of data -- much of which is created passively
through technology like medical and home devices, web crawling, surveillance cameras and apps that track your movement. In addition, these new tools help us not only to create data, but access it. We can view terabytes of information from any place at any time. According to one study
, smartphones, which now outnumber people on Earth, are carried 22 hours a day by most people who own them.
Researchers have learned that this access to swells of information comes at a cost. Every time we click on a link, check a tweet or write a post, we give away some of our finite attention. In fact, the mere presence of a smartphone
resting silently in a pocket or on a desk within view may impair our ability to think and reason. Put simply, our attention is spread too thin.
The solution of silence
In this noisy economy of clickbait and misinformation
, it is imperative to ask how we can encourage the informed and engaged citizenry that Brandeis imagined.
The panacea may be simpler than it seems: silence. As philosopher Thomas Carlyle famously once said, while speech is silver, silence is gold.
Carlyle wrote in Sartor Resartus in 1836, "Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together." Carlyle argued that too much speech, and by extension the noise of information overload, can suppress focused, productive thought.
To bring Carlyle's analysis into the present, silence, especially in today's oversaturated market, can help create an engaged citizenry. But silence is not relegated to individuals sitting down for 20-minute meditation sessions. It also occurs in the types of information we ingest.
For instance, trained journalists encourage silence through publishing carefully curated pieces. By making redactions, edits and cuts, jour