Information overload is driving us crazy -- and the media can help

Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT) December 1, 2017

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Victoria D. Baranetsky is a free speech attorney and currently works as General Counsel at The Center for Investigative Reporting. She is also an affiliate at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. This is the next installment in the CNN Opinion series on the challenges facing the media, under attack from critics, governments and changing technology.

(CNN)In a famous 1927 concurrence, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis distinguished the purpose of free speech as helping humans to develop and nurture their capabilities to have meaningful discourse. Brandeis wrote: "The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government."

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.

The problem: Information overload and technology

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.