Too Much Information

Too Much Information

Understanding What You Don't Want to Know

Book - 2020
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"When should the government require people to disclose information? A lot of the debate around information disclosure focuses on having the 'right to know,' but Cass Sunstein argues that it is more useful to think of information and its effects on peoples' well-being. Of course, this is often easier said than done. What is helpful to one person can be harmful to another (for example, calorie labels on your favorite snack-do you really want to know?) How can you balance the various informational needs of diverse people in a variety of circumstances? This book explores information we receive and what we do with it. Sunstein focuses on mandatory labels, an area in which he has done a significant amount of research. When does information help you stop doing something that is harmful, or at least make you want to stop smoking? When is information simply too much, as in those lengthy terms of service that no one reads? Or when is it confusing to receive information? Does the existence of a label that says 'this product was made with genetically modified organisms' actually tell us anything about the health effects of eating a particular food? (No.) Another, often overlooked question, is the fact that people will seek or avoid information based on how they think the information will make them feel. In many cases, how a person feels about receiving information is directly related to what they can do with it. If they receive a medical screening result in a case where early detection is useful and life-saving, that is good news and people will seek that information out. However, if a person has the option to find out whether or not they have a genetic disease with no treatment, they are less likely to want to know. The book considers information in other forms, including social media. Sunstein finds that people aren't happy when they use Facebook, but they value the information that they get from the platform, so much so that users in a lab setting would demand a significant amount of money to stop using Facebook, even when they agree that using Facebook makes them unhappy. Another form of information Sunstein covers is government paperwork. He makes the astonishing observation that if every resident of Chicago spent 40 hours a week filling out federal forms, they would get through less than half of the amount of paperwork people across the United States must fill out annually. Government estimates quantify the annual paperwork burden as filling 9.78 billion hours. This is what Richard Thaler calls 'sludge,' and Sunstein discusses the ways in which sludge can be reduced to encourage certain outcomes, like automatically enrolling low-income children in free lunch programs. In other cases, however, sludge can literally save lives, as in situations when a waiting period is instituted for buying a gun. Information is a powerful tool. In many cases, government is entirely right to provide it, or require others to do so. We are better off with stop signs, with warnings on prescription drugs, with GPS devices, with reminders that bills are due or that doctors' appointments are upcoming. But sometimes less is more. What is needed, for the future, is much more clarity about what information is actually doing or achieving. The challenge is to increase the likelihood that information will actually make people's days go better - and contribute to the enjoyment and the length of 'true life.' This book raises questions to help us think about when less is more, when more is less, and when enough is enough"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Cambridge, Massachusetts : The MIT Press, [2020]
ISBN: 9780262044165
Call Number: 025.524 Su749t
Characteristics: 252 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm


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