Swiss museum clinic tries to cure information junkies
The Libyan war, the Greek debt crisis and the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal have all been rich fodder this year for news junkies -- but is today's information overload healthy?
A Swiss clinic has set out to help those who feel overwhelmed by such excess with an unusual exhibition that runs until July 15, 2012 at the Museum for Communication in Bern.
On arrival the visitor walks into a darkened room with 12,000 books lined up on shelves, in an illustration of the sheer amount of information individuals are bombarded with daily.
The exhibition explains that if all the inhabitants of the Earth came together to process all the data released worldwide, they would each have to read about 12,000 books like this a day.
"In principle, communication is important and can be something that gives pleasure, but nowadays there is a flood of information," museum director Jacqueline Strauss told AFP.
She likens it to food. "You can eat too much, you can always eat the same thing (...). That's not good, but if you have a healthy and balanced diet, that is pleasurable and comfortable."
An average person can read a 350-page book in a day if he or she has nothing else to do, according to experts from Bern University who participated in the exhibition.
But the volume of information and communications broadcast and published round the world by Internet, e-mail, telephone, the press, radio and television is estimated in the exhibition to amount to about 7.355 billion gigaoctets -- the equivalent of billions of books.
Faced with this surfeit of information, "there are cases where people become ill and there are certain risks, like burnout," said Strauss. But if one takes charge of oneself, 'overload' illness can be avoided.
The Communications Clinic, which she has set up in the exhibition, is meant primarily to "raise awareness".
-- 'Are you stressed out?' --
On a television, installed at the entrance to the clinic, a woman warns visitors: "Advertisements pile up in our letter-boxes, spam chokes our e-mail boxes" and "cable companies offer us 200 channels".
"Are you stressed out, overwhelmed, exhausted?" she asks.
If the answer is "yes", the visitor is invited into a "check-up room" where he fills out a questionnaire that will enable the compilation of his or her Personal Communications Index and lead to the offer of suitable treatment.
The visitor is then told by coaches which door they need to go through.
The green door is for those with no problem. The yellow door is for those who are only mildly troubled by the excess of information and mail, and it opens on to a space where the visitor can get counselling on how to sort out his or her e-mails.
For the really "sick", there are two more intensive treatments. The red door opens into the meditation room, also described as "inner light". Comfortably seated on black cushions, the visitor relaxes, a red light forces him to close his eyes and a woman's voice urges him to let go.
The orange room, known as the "balanced formula", offers the visitor a walk in the wild, between wooden walls and on floors of pebbles. Visitors can pick them up, collect them, write on them and listen to the sounds of a flowing stream and of songbirds.
At the end of the tour, an automatic distributor delivers a supposed medicine called "Comucaine".
Packaged in a white box, Comucaine is actually an instruction leaflet which summarises the advice given during the exhibition to help people to de-stress from the information overload.
For those who are really hooked on the news, the clinic offers online support on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/svanbelkom.
But above all, the museum's director stressed, we must not forget that "one is not only a victim, one is also guilty" because "everybody is a producer of information".
© 2011 AFP