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Exploring North America’s fascination with deja viewing.

Switch on cable news. The ticker speeds along with random tidbits of information. The earnest reporter babbles on about the same car crash/murder/political sex scandal that you saw on the ticker. Now switch on your computer. Google, MSN or Yahoo News offers those same headlines yet this time the story can be read via numerous links to global websites. Information repeated over and over, ingested and spewed out in a never-ending churn.  Yet this isn’t simply a news related phenomenon. It’s everywhere. On television, the vast array of cable channels and shows forces an abundance of reruns recaps and repeats. Idol Rewind, TVLand, SoapNet, their entire premise is to regurgitate previously consumed material. And yet, I watch, I listen, I read, suspended in a state of obsessive consumption. Am I alone? I think not. We have become a “Regurgitation Nation”

Obviously the Internet has a strong influence over how we collect, process and disseminate morsels of information. In fact it has become ground zero for repetition. A Google search of the phrase “Statue of Liberty” yields 4,650,000 links. And if you begin to search those links you’ll find many not only feature the same information but also repeat it verbatim.

Broadcast and cable channels are pushing their websites to the hilt based on viewer appetites for repeat consumption…“can’t get enough of the Office”…”just go online and catch your favorite episodes!” Network websites have upped the ante further by throwing nostalgia viewing into the mix. Miami Vice has become an Internet smash for NBC.com despite having been off the air for 20 years!

And then there are all those darn tweets. With the ability to transmit at a rapid pace to a collective audience, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become the ultimate cyber game of telephone. Write it, post it, pass it along, so simple yet so very addictive (bet you can’t read just one!). Couple that with its open availability and it feeds into the “gimme, gimme” greed that has insidiously woven itself in our culture.

Of course, one cannot point an accusing finger solely at the Internet. TV has also fueled this addictive cycle of information digestion, expulsion and re-ingestion. As previously mentioned, cable new networks are notorious for spending hours albeit days on the same story. Rehashing, reiterating, and reworking have seemingly replaced “reporting” as broadcast journalism seeks to fill 24 hours of airtime every day. How many times can I hear that Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest? Apparently a lot.

Still, let’s face it. The media is swayed by consumer demand and in this age of consumption, demand is climbing. Information addiction has become a modern day disorder. In one Harvard study, it was found that constant exposure to data streams release dopamine in humans not unlike the rush experienced with drug use. This stimulation ultimately affects attention span, creativity and focus not unlike ADD. Not coincidentally, scientists have labeled information addiction as pseudo-attention deficit disorder. Taking this a step further, the case can also be made of the parallel between information addiction and food addiction. Extreme forms of over consumption, they each trigger chemical stimulation and pleasure release. Cheap and readily available, fast food fills our stomachs while fast info fills our brains. Yet neither will do our body good as our muscles are overtaken with flab and our minds are turned to mush.

As in any addiction, kicking the habit is no easy task. With food, we cannot quit cold turkey. We need food to survive just as we need information to feed our minds and motivate learning. Is there anyone here who’s going to give up his or her television, computer, or PDA? I thought not.

What we can control is our consumption of “regurgitated information”. When I was a kid, summertime TV was all about reruns. Ratings would dip and that was okay, after all, those who missed them the first time mainly viewed these shows. I purport that there is no reason to ingest data we have previously seen. It is a colossal time waster in a fast paced world where we already struggle juggling time with family, friends and work.

 In a nutshell, avoid the traps of information addiction by limiting the time you spend online and watching television, especially if that info is regurgitated. Online blogger and best selling author Tim Ferriss’s “Low Information Diet” is a step in the right direction. It’s a temporary restrictive program that forces you to re-evaluate what information you really need in daily life.

In the end being conscious and protective of the information you consume is one of the best ways to break free from information addiction. If you’ve seen it before then turn it off, tune it out and finally wave bye bye to deja viewing.