The Age of Missing Information

On a late spring day in 1990, Bill McKibben set out to determine what a person could learn during twenty-four hours spent watching every channel on the massive cable network of Fairfax, Virginia. With the help of friends, he recorded everything, and, alone, watched and analyzed this explosion of information.

Surprisingly, McKibben found little information that was useful in explaining human beings, what they are about and where they are going. Instead, he found an insidious siren call leading humans away from the truth about themselves and their world, and into an insular, self-reflective emptiness.

In contrast, McKibben’s examination of a day and a night on a mountaintop revealed a nature both dispassionate and beautiful. Nature, he observes, is not a stage for humans to manipulate for their own pleasure; nature simply is. Unfortunately, this natural world is becoming impoverished by a misleading notion that television constantly puts before us.

Others have criticized the unreal expectations television has given us. McKibben convincingly explains this ultimately destructive message in terms of its nature. The self-referential span of television, played over in countless reruns, focuses on the unprecedented post-World War II prosperity and achievement that have led to some of our current social and economic problems. Television makes endless acquisition and expansion seem possible and necessary for human growth and happiness. What viewers have learned from television is that life should be boundless and exciting, and that personal ambition is the greatest value. On a mountaintop, McKibben was reminded of the humbling power of the natural world and humankind’s responsibility to work within its limitations. Includes index.