Mike Rosenblum has been riffing over on his blog about Neil Postman and the U.S. presidential debates. Back in the day, Postman wrote 1980s media classic Amusing Ourselves to Death, which blames telegraphy for all our modern woes.
IMO, before the telegraph, information overload came in the the form of religious works (try reading the Bible over breakfast, making sense of it, and then using its precepts as a prompt for action — you’ll schism yourself before you’ve even reached the gospels).
Still, if you haven’t read Postman in a while, dig him out, if only for nuggets like this:
How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would otherwise not have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?
…most of our daily news in inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action … the situation created by telegraphy, and then exacerbated by later technologies, made the relationship between information an action both abstract and remote.
For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency … For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right of reply.