Cantor, Elysium, Venus -- 26 Feb. 2057: For Beezle Flarnigan, a social-waged homemaker and child-rearer living in the Brightwings terrafarming commune, it started with a nagging sense of having missed something important.
"I signed up to more and more infostreams, feeders, aggregators, curated linklists on all kinds of topics. The more I was taking in, the more I felt like I needed to take in. But no matter how much I read and saw, it seemed like there was always more info out there I needed to find. I tried to follow all the links, then just skimmed them, then I had to start skipping over them but every time I left something unread it nagged at me. Like an itch you just can't scratch. It made me feel like I wasn't good enough."
Eventually, the continual need to know more and keep up with the ever-intensifying onslaught of information began to interfere with Beezle's ability to take care of her obligations to the commune. "I started taking shortcuts, hiding things, leaving the kids in unsafe situations while I read just one more article. My comrades looked at me differently. They made a lot of allowances, and sort of hinted to me that I wasn't pulling my weight. Finally there was a meeting and they laid it on the line: if I didn't shape up, they would have to sever me and I would be on my own. I got so mad, that they were singling me out for no good reason. But Teefa, she's the biomom of two of the kids, Rainy and Foon, was talking about how she had seen Foon reaching for a hot pot on the cooktop -- I just broke down. When it happened I had been watching a youtube vid about twen-cen economic policies. And I had to say to myself, was that really more important than protecting a child from harm?"
It's an increasingly common problem, and one that is reaching epidemic proportions according to the Interplanetary Psychiatric Association, which has released a report on the syndrome known as Analysis Paralysis, the inability to cope with the intensity of information flows in today's heavily networked world. The conclusions drawn by the report are grim and a little startling; in the past year alone, Analysis Paralysis has surpassed Social Network Anxiety, Virtual World Addiction, and Surveillance Paranoia to become the most commonly reported network-induced psychiatric problem. And the results can be catastrophic.
According to the report's author, Dr. Blandford Killington of the Gesightner Clinic for Research on Digital Hygiene, the consequences of untreated Analysis Paralysis can be considerably more severe than neglect of housework or endangerment of children. When asked about Mx. Flarnigan's case, Dr. Killington classified zer as an 'early-stage' patient. "The first major symptom is withdrawal from social and leisure activities, which removes the normal checks and balances on this self-destructive behaviour. Eventually, without intervention of some sort, employment performance degrades to the point of complete incompetence. The sufferer's brain has begun to prioritize gathering information and understanding it over actually doing anything with it, over accomplishment of any kind. They can stop doing anything other than seeking further information, neglect basic self-maintenance, even start to forgo eating and sleeping. In the most extreme phase, the patient becomes seemingly catatonic, save for the continual network traffic that delivers their information feed. If they are cut off they experience physical withdrawal, to the extent that they may well die from the shock. Once someone reaches that stage, there's very little hope of recovery."
Dr. Killington places the blame for the rising incidence of AP on several factors. "There's the flood of low-cost digital labour coming into the blogging and curating industries. It's increased the rate at which passable-quality information and analysis is being generated and the efficiency of sorting the good stuff out of the dross. Which is good overall for society, I have to admit, but it can become overwhelming to people with a strong appetite for knowledge and understanding. Then there's the increase of social isolation and alienation as the population shifts more toward orbital habitats and far-flung colonies, away from the denser population centres of Earth and Mars. Mx. Flarnigan is lucky to have comrades who care for zer and are willing to help zer work through zer issues. In more and more cases, people with little social investment in jobs and relationships can just let these connections slide, and AP sufferers are just left to their own devices, left to slide further and further in."
Beezle Flarnigan agrees with this assessment.
"The comrades have been so helpful, so understanding. I have a psychiatrist installed in my headware now. It helps me put limits on my browsing. It helps me remember that people are more important than info. It helps me understand that the world won't end if I don't know everything."