I started to title this Too Much of a Good Thing, but decided to go with the present title for reasons what will become clear – mainly because it gets the attention of readers, who are likely to be more interested in female anatomy than matters of information overload. But let me begin with the beginning.
In a moment of weakness, I subscribed to Scientific American – and while I was at it, Scientific American Mind. The price was amazingly cheap – which should have tipped me off. Later, I hoped the things would never show up, because I have far too much to read already – but eventually they made their appearance when I made my weekly run to the nearest large town to make contact with the world at large, and picked up my mail that had been flown in from Miami.
Once before, I tried Scientific American, but became dissatisfied with it, and switched to New Scientist – which I have stayed with, even though it costs me about $100 dollars a year to do so – nothing, really compared to my total yearly budget, but as behavioral economics has found, the human mind is subject to some strange quirks. I will be talking about behavior economics more later in this essay – its an important subject, part of the complex world we live it – but are scarcely aware of. Let me return to Scientific American.
One of the curses of our time is information overload. This is nothing wrong with most of this information – except there is too much of it, and our minds go into overload and shut off. Exactly what it is designed to do: to make our minds, and therefore us, disappear. When I scanned Scientific American and Scientific American Mind, my heart sank. They we so attractive – and at the same time, so superficial! Exactly the kind of stuff I don’t need in my life. I decided to cancel my subscription. But they were ahead of me. I am getting the damn things for free, and cannot turn them off! They exist to sell advertising, and having a high numbers of readers, real or not, is more important than anything else.
For example, there is a huge advertising section devoted to extolling the virtues of the Thailand’s institutions of higher learning. This must have cost a fortune, but since Thailand is now run by a military dictatorship, but it must have decided that repairing its image was worth it. You don’t have to look very hard at the ads to see their institutions of higher learning are mediocre at best. But let me return to what you are really interested in: breasts.
I turned to the New York Review of Books, and its feature article for Feb 11, Health Care: Who Knows Best? The author is Jerome Groopman, who:
Holds the Dina and Raphael Recanti Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and is Chief of Experimental Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. A staff writer for the New Yorker, his latest book is How Doctors Think.
Need I say more? Yes, I need to say more. This is substantial stuff, not the fluff you see in the likes of Scientific American, and you will have to give it your attention. It is about the health care bills now in the House and the Senate, and the people behind each version: Cass Sunstein and Peter Orszag. And about Obama, who is doing his best to paper over their differences. I recall what my sister said when this whole movement began “We are waiting to see what Obama is going to do about this.” In other words “We are going to be helpless, and let Obama take care of us.”
It’s not that simple. It’s very complex in fact, but can be summarized (unfairly) by noticing the American preoccupation with two female organs: the Breast and the Uterus.
In November, the United States Preventative Task Force revised a long-standing guideline, recommending that women between the ages of forty and forty-nine do not need to have routine mammograms. A fire-storm of public opinion broke out! This indicated clearly that the American public, as usual, didn’t know what was going on, but was upset about anything concerning one of their primary preoccupations: the Breast. The author does his best to sort this out, but, in my opinion, did not succeed. I had to go back over and read it carefully. He could really have devoted an whole article to this, and probably should.
Later, an expert panel of obstetricians and gynecologists recommended that teenage girls no longer have routine pap smears for cervical cancer. No one complained about this, although the reasoning behind it was similar. The reason: the public is not interested in the Uterus, although it is much more important than the Breast – being the organ where we all are made.