Information overload is nothing new

Alan Jacobs putting forward some theses for disputation:

Francis Bacon, in the essay “Of Studies,” provided a stringent model for how to narrow our attentiveness: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” In her wonderful book Too Much to Know, Ann Blair explains that Bacon in this essay offered instruction in the skills of intellectual triage for people afflicted by information overload. Blair points out that one of the most common complaints of literate people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is the proliferation of stuff to read. Cried Erasmus in 1525, “Is there anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books?”

And many of those books were simply not good — not good for you, lacking nutrition. Therefore Bacon recommends that we begin with tasting; and in many cases that will be sufficient. It is unhealthy to read worthless books “with diligence and attention.”