I suspect I have made some logical missteps along the way with all this. But it comes down to a strange, if obvious, fact about us. Our emotional wiring seems to be very good at responding to what happens directly, in real time, in physical proximity to our persons, in connection with our intimate or at least personal lives (can’t get closer than a sock). But as those connections grow more and more distant, outside our family circle, then outside our clan, community, tribe, country, continent, hemisphere … the signal attenuates, and our emotional antennae are less likely to quiver. I don’t claim this to be a shattering insight, by the way, I’m aware of how obvious it is. We suppose ourselves to have evolved to live in such groupings, and our bonding and emotional fields of force developed in those snugger environments. Nothing foudroyant about that.

But today, the weaker connections are boosted by the relays—akin to the “repeaters” that amplify a phone signal— of satellite and internet news, and of course, social media. So we are closer to the earthquakes, wars, atrocities and the thousand natural and unnatural shocks the earth is heir to. And our emotional antennae do quiver and encourage us to feel a keener emotional bond over distances.

Information, knowledge – it rules now, as we know. But—aside from the limitless power given to data brokers and dealers and the dangers real or imagined of the nascent AI revolution—aside from all those threats that the ever-increasing mass and flow of information present, there is the simple threat that for each of us individually the burden of knowledge can become too heavy for our emotional response systems to bear. If all the noise in the world sounds in our heads we might end up with our palms pressed to our ears screaming, ‘Stop!’ before dropping dead of overload.

I’m not arguing that we should ignore the monstrous horrors that afflict the planet and retreat into information-free shells that allow us to move guiltlessly in the world on account of our innocent freedom from knowledge. The genie is out of the bottle, and we know that what we know can’t be unknown.

Stephen Fry


And while I shall keep silent about some points, I do not want to remain silent about my morality which says to me: Live in seclusion so that you can live for yourself. Live in ignorance about what seems most important to your age. Between yourself and today lay the skin of at least three centuries. And the clamor of today, the noise of wars and revolutions should be a mere murmur for you. You will also wish to help – but only those whose distress you understand entirely because they share with you one suffering and one hope – your friends – and only in the manner in which you help yourself. I want to make them bolder, more persevering, simpler, gayer. I want to teach them what is understood by so few today, least of all by these preachers of pity: to share not suffering but joy.

— Nietzsche, The Gay Science