I had three devices operating simultaneously, and somehow still managed to be wrong about everything.
My flight from San Francisco arrived at 11:45 p.m., and I was exhausted. My car needed gas, extending my hour drive home (without traffic) to an hour fifteen. I just wanted to crawl into bed.
Sucked Down the Information Sewer
Then the damn local news and talk radio station started telling stories of a shooting in Boston at MIT. A campus cop was shot, according to the news, during hold-up at a convenience store near campus. Dozens of police SWAT vans, cars, and helicopters were on the scene.
So I got home and flipped on a 24-hour news channel on the television. The radio news was at least two hours behind. The flashing lights and black panel vans had migrated to a suburb of Boston. Residents—now witnesses—reported a minute-long gun battle in their sleepy streets. (One minute may not sound long, but one minute is eternity for people in the vicinity of a gun fight.)
Police scanner traffic talked about two men throwing homemade grenades and other explosives from their speeding car.
Reports were fractured and inconsistent. No one could explain how the MIT campus police murder, the convenience store robbery, a carjacking, and the real-life first-person shooter video game were connected.
I was following everything on Twitter, Reddit, news websites, television, and police scanner apps.
And I knew nothing.
I had the names of the suspects wrong. So did a lot of people.
I went to bed at 4:30 a.m. thinking one thing and woke up at 8:30 a.m. hearing I’d been completely bamboozled.
Information Isn’t Always Helpful
I wish I’d ignored the entire Boston Marathon bombing.
Ignored is probably the wrong word. I wish I’d just missed it.
The time between the bombing and the shootouts I was in another world. I was on business, but the really cool business of gamificaiton. I didn’t watch much news or read newspapers. I was immersed in the noble practice of making the world more like a game, making work more human. Even though my iPhone battery kept dying in a couple of hours, I couldn’t stay connected to wifi (no fault of the facility or organizers), and I had a stomach thing the whole time, three days of gamification beat the hell out of feeling useless and scared.
Sometime Knowledge Is the Opposite of Power
There was nothing for me to do about the Boston bombing and its investigation. There still isn’t. So how could knowing more about it—more that turned out to be flat wrong—help me or others?
It couldn’t. Not living in St. Louis. Not with my skills and experience and talent. I was of no use to the people trying to capture the culprits or nurse the wounded or comfort the survivors.
We convince ourselves that we must know everything as it’s happening. We don’t. Stuff blowing up on TV reported by hyperventilating anchors creates a false sense of urgency and danger that leads to paranoia and surrender of control.
I’m going on an information diet.
If it’s really important and really urgent and I personally need to know or get involved, someone will tell me. And that someone won’t be a news anchor.