The curious case of Information explosion in 2020
“The most valuable commodity I know of is information”. This famous dialogue voiced by the fictional character Gordon Gekko, reflects the meticulous characterization of a pragmatic and capitalist villain of yester years when there was no internet. This dialogue however has lost most of its sheen (not Charlie sheen) in the last one decade.
Just a decade ago, a lot of critical information/knowledge was privy to a select few unless one became a google/youtube champion by then. Even if information flew in for free, there was no way to check the veracity of the same.
What changed since then? The first thing that may strike you is “Social Media explosion”, from its nascent business model of holiday and display picture aggregation. I believe that’s still a secondary avenue while the actual means lie elsewhere. It’s the human mind first followed by the avenues it chooses to utilize. Have we ever thought of enhanced decibels within the society backed by ever increasing confidence? One of my mentors had once told me, “If you aren’t selling something, you aren’t working. Human interaction in India is the key to making money. Back office is an excuse to stay behind in life”. However faulty and skewed his opinion maybe, it is as if the whole world around me heard him, that in the life’s race, no one wants to be in the back office and want to be more opinionated. Opinions require confidence which inturn is driven by availability of information. The back bencher privilege is diminishing every moment and we have already begun our journey into a welcome know-it-all territory.
2020 has been an epitome for my argument above. A blessing in disguise, Covid 19 gifted people with 120–200 minutes of excess time on a daily basis for months together. This excess time couldn’t be put to any use within the monotony of four walls. Where could it have gone? Whatsapp, Telegram, Zoom, Teams and the list can go on. The democratization of information/knowledge has been drastically sped up in the last 12 months alone compared to the entire decade itself. Everything from American elections to stock ideas to mental health science to diet composition to vaccine composition is being discussed, debated and shredded. Mere availability of information couldn’t have brought this transformation alone which as I mentioned above is just a product of an avenue. It is the intent that crept into the human mind in the last 12 months, not by force but by abundance of time.
However, in many cases the toxic nature of excess information has threatened our very existence. Take for instance the misinformation around the farm laws brought in by the current Indian government and the noise surrounding that, an IPO recommendation from a family member who had no prior experience in investing or no idea of the underlying company, a rally in an unrelated stock called “Signal” basis a two worded tweet from the real life Tony Stark (Elon Musk), panic-stricken accumulation of household items fearing a grinding halt, the capitol hill riot on the back of voter fraud claims and the list can go on. There is and has been information almost everywhere. 2020 gave us the mining tools to extract every ounce of it and put it to any use. Whatsapp groups of family & friends, Twitter, Stock trading groups on telegram, a bilateral call with a friend, a friendly chat with an immigration officer and the list may never end. There is new information everywhere and in rare cases clubbed with an opinion (which should ideally be more often). Problems of excess information in many cases like Covid and its symptoms (even WHO came up with new and contradictory statements through the year) has added to the mass hysteria and commotion. Most in a country like India believe to have been infected by the virus as there’s no limit to the number of symptoms that one can genuinely track. Information asymmetry, rumours are two more nails in the coffin called panic. Toilet paper hoarders of the West are perfect examples of what happens when rumours fly from first time front office bearers.
In terms of markets, 2020 saw the power of free money. Without avenues to spend full salaries (not discrediting those who lost their livelihoods or saw pay cuts), the animal spirits of consumers drove the money into stocks without rationale or fundamentals, but purely basis social media recommendations from anonymous handles and numbers. Equities trade at such gargantuan prices that in a normal no-pandemic scenario these valuations at this point would have sounded crazy to seasoned investors. Everyone’s investing in something in hope of getting rich overnight. The Bitcoin frenzy took its price to $42,000 with blind estimates of $100,000 by end of this year.
Digital media on the other hand added more flame to the combustible gas of misinformation. They were the biggest beneficiaries as they could within the comfort of their homes manufacture and distribute political agendas without much resistance. These opinion manufacturing media houses tried their best to decisively move fence-sitters on the political scale. Film and Web series makers on the other hand benefitted from increased use of OTT platforms. As pioneers of free-speech, these content makers were under a tight leash of dystopian censor boards and couldn’t express themselves freely from time immemorial.
In all, we already began our journey into a new world. A world without barriers of knowledge inequality. What 2020 did to human minds couldn’t have been achieved even after decades of normal life at its current pace. Minus the asymmetry, I believe it is a welcome change once clubbed with a strong opinion and judgement.