Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Too Much Information: Understanding What You Don’t Want to Know

Today we live in a time of abundant information. A single click or tap can get us anything we want to know. But does knowing make our lives better? There are many government initiatives out there that make that assumption. However, they often don't stand up to the results. 

Sometimes the act of reporting can trigger a reaction, even if unjustified. Labeling items as to whether or not the contain GMO ingredients makes it appear that GMO ingredients are harmful and should be avoided. However, most research shows them to be perfectly fine for humans. Other labeling has encouraged change that is helpful (such as trans-fat labeling.)

In some cases, the results can have very different behaviors. Putting calories to the left of food on menus instead of to the right causes different behaviors. The general result of calorie labeling also differs by groups. For some people (often the poor), the labeling encourages seeking out larger calorie counts to get more "food for the buck". Some people may have the discipline to use the calories to reduce consumption. Others may become more stressed out over it and eat more.

Providing information requires effort. The costs involved with producing the information need to be balanced with the benefit received. Government requests a great deal of information. How much of this is really needed? Are there alternatives to collecting it? Many social programs are means tested. In order to reduce misallocation of funds, huge amounts of information are required. This ends up excluding some of the people that are most in need. Would we be better off just accepting that some non-deserving people would receive benefits in order to ensure access to all those in need. (And even better yet, why not just allow everybody to take advantage?) Information requirements is both intentionally and unintentionally a huge barrier to entry.

Excessive disclosures can be useless. (Who pays attention to the multitude of privacy policies?) They can also encourage the opposite behavior. A doctor that discloses an interest in a certain treatment may thus unwittingly encourage the patient to select that treatment. The patient feels an obligation to support the doctor with that treatment. The doctor now feels relieved from conflict of interest concerns. Is this really what was intended by disclosure?

We as individuals and society need to focus on information that provides us benefit. We also need to realize that we are biased to what we have. Could are lives be better with less?

No comments:

Post a Comment