A Review of FRESH MILK XV – The Age of Infobesity

Visual artist Ronald Williams reviews Fresh Milk’s last event, FRESH MILK XV, which took place April 10, 2014 at The Milking Parlour Studio.

Photographs by Dondré Trotman.

McLean Greaves presenting 'The Age of Infobesity'. Photograph by Dondré Trotman.

McLean Greaves presenting ‘The Age of Infobesity’. Photograph by Dondré Trotman.

On Thursday April 10th, McLean Greaves, renowned media industry veteran took centre stage at FRESH MILK XV. He presented a brief, but ironically informative, lecture entitled ‘The Age of Infobesity’. Derived from the medical condition obesity, where there is an unhealthy excess of body fat, infobesity refers to an overabundance of information which can have dire physical and cognitive effects.

According to McLean, when we gain information it triggers a high reward center in our brains—the same area that responds to pleasurable stimuli like food and sex. This combination of high reward value and the availability of social media devices make information extremely addictive. Our information craving is evident in everyday life; from hours spent obsessively playing social media games to the average office worker checking their email 30-40 times an hour.

The fact that the media industry is well aware of our addiction and readily exploits it is perhaps more disturbing. It is now widespread knowledge that many, if not all of our online activities are being observed, but the internet itself is designed to distract us. The time spent on sites, the amount of words most likely to be read on a page, the most click-worthy zones on our screens; it is all monitored. McLean states that as a result, the search engines, pop-ups and pop-unders are tailored to suit our individual internet presence, as if catered by some omnipotent being.

However, he is quick to point out that this godlike entity is one of a sinister nature. Given the statistics he presented, I would have to agree with him. The average attention span of humans has fallen 33% since 2000, from 12 seconds to 8 seconds – To put that into perspective, a goldfish’s attention span is 9 seconds long. McLean continues to say that not only has our ability to focus been affected, but our face to face social interactions have suffered as well. Just 5 hours of internet surfing changes the way the brain works, with the decision making and problem solving areas of the brain showing less activity.

Furthermore, according to McLean, the average American teen owns 6.7 devices (slightly less for the Caribbean) and is almost constantly connected to the information network, making them the most susceptible to the effects of infobesity. Quite understandably, as this is the internet age—the only age many young people have grown up in—the older generation’s attention span is more resilient than that of the youth. Needless to say, this does not bode well for the future as projected productivity levels will decrease while stress levels increase. However, the situation does not need to be tragic, as solutions lie in the problem.

There are various programs which control and monitor the time expended on computer activities, and while still controversial, video games have shown promise in the effort to increase the attention span in children. Like any addiction, or even a medical condition like obesity, it takes time and discipline to correct. As we are well into this age of infobesity, it would seem wise to utilize the technology to solve our problems, rather than fight a seemingly unwinnable war.


About Ronald Williams:


Born in Bridgetown, Barbados in 1990, multimedia artist Ronald Williams developed an interest in art from a very young age.  His art education in the Barbados Community College’s Fine Arts program forced him to view art as a powerful cog in society. Currently, Williams’ work focuses on race and sociology, investigating how sports and the black athlete fit into popular culture. Ronald manipulates popular imagery to compose computer generated images, using digital collage to speak about a multiplicity of issues, i.e. society’s perceptions, stereotypes, fantasies and various nuances about the black athlete.

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