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The Age of Missing Information

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  343 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
“Highly personal and original . . . McKibben goes beyond Marshall McLuhan’s theory that the medium is the message.”
——The New York Times

Imagine watching an entire day’s worth of television on every single channel. Acclaimed environmental writer and culture critic Bill McKibben subjected himself to this sensory overload in an experiment to verify whether we are truly better
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 13th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1992)
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Andrew Bourne
Nov 30, 2008 Andrew Bourne rated it it was ok
What is most radical about this book is the experiment itself, it's personal, bodily, i guess almost self-flagellating, akin to the film Super Size Me. McKibben watched one day of cable television, all 100 channels, 24 hours a piece; that is, he gorged on about 2400 hours total of America's TV output from a single day in the early 1990s. It took months to view, and included shopping networks, infomercials, and televangelism. Torturous.

Despite this, he manages to make a quaint little book--a qual
Apr 04, 2008 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
We have been told multiple times that we live in the age of information, that we are living through an information revolution, that we are taking in more information than any other culture at any other time in the history of the planet. True enough, says McKibben. But what information is it? Is it valuable, sustaining, enriching information or is it something else? The answer would be “something else.”

Published in 1992, the Age of Missing information is McKibben’s exploration of the information
Reading this book was rather like listening to a symphony composed in different keys,an elegaic bflat minor interspersed with bursts of jangling gsharp major,drawing on techniques of different centuies and conducted by the 3 stooges,all of them,at the same time. This metaphor is flawed,and maybe it would be more accurate to say it was like listening to a symphony with the radio on to the news,except for that that the medium under the spotlight is television,and the whole scope of its programming ...more
Feb 13, 2009 Callsign222 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a little dated, as it chronicles TV from the 90's (only 100 stations), but other than that it's basic premise holds true... That we have little to no attention span, our collective memory has been truncated to what TV can show us, and we're all a bunch of suckers. The rest of the world, however, holds lessons and information far above and beyond anything else. I loved this book when I read it way back, and I still love it now.
Mar 08, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it
I bought this book in 1993 and sat on it for 20 years…so reading it now with the rise of the Internet makes the message even more poignant. If you can get over much of the almost antiquated TV information, the message McKibben teaches is still pertinent. Even though most of us will not sit an entire day surrounded by nature, we have to also come to grips with the fact that there is NO WAY anyone can keep on top of or abreast of news/current events/trends/what's occurring around the world. Trying ...more
Mark Valentine
Jan 17, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it it was amazing
This book was a catalyst for me, a springboard, it launched me. I had read Henry David Thoreau's Walden before, so I knew at heart what McKebben addressed in this book, but I had never thought of making a "thought experiment" like he did. McKibben's approach and analysis is scathing and it makes it embarrassing to be a part of the TV generation. Now the the internet is here, I wonder if it has only accelerated things (I state, as I write this on the Internet). The best part of this book was the ...more
Rachel Bayles
Jun 13, 2016 Rachel Bayles rated it really liked it
Shelves: professional
If you need encouragement to turn off the TV, this is the book to read. Being reminded of all these jingles and useless tidbits of information floating around in my head was a nice illustration of the absurd.
Apr 26, 2009 Karen rated it liked it
I found the premise of this book interesting: the author recorded a day's worth of TV on over 100 channels, watched it all over the course of the next year, and pondered what we could learn about modern American society from it. It had some funny bits and some insightful moments about useless products, lack of community, distancing ourselves from nature even while watching nature documentaries, etc. Overall though I found it suffered from two major flaws:

1) It was published in 1993 and the auth
Oct 02, 2012 Ken rated it liked it
The book is a long essay contrasting and analyzing a day relaxing in the wilds of the Virginia Adirondacks with the experience of absorbing one single day of 100 channels broadcasting on the local TV network. McKibben invited over one hundred of his friends and family to tape all of the programming on May 3, 1990, and he took a few weeks to watch it all, and he contrasts this experience with one day that he spent in the 'Great Outdoors'.

It's clever and insightful, and I thought it most interest
Joanna Weissen
Dec 03, 2012 Joanna Weissen rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is amazingly bad. While the premise of the experiment is interesting and the author does have a few points about the nature of television I found thought provoking, most of the book is just the author espousing his views about nature, environmentalism, and sustainability. I did find the fact that these buzzwords have been in constant use for over 20 years both fascinating and depressing all at the same time. The author seems to have made choices in his life that he wishes we would all ...more
May 31, 2009 Mike rated it it was ok
I kind of gathered what the author was going to say when he laid out his strategy toward the beginning of the book. After plowing through all of the TV examples, sprinkled with tid bits of outside beauty journals, the only conclusion I had in mind is what he led us to. So TV blindly misuses its power to deliver information by sending us mediocre, subpar, and damaging information, instead of useful information. If I had to sit through over 1000 hours of TV first and then spend 24 hours camping, I ...more
May 30, 2014 Juli marked it as to-read
From a colleague, March 2014:

Just attended a talk at the GEO conference on "Master Narratives: The Stories that Move Americans", where Andy Goodman argued that "if you're in the changing-the-world business, then you're in the changing-stories business", and that "if you're telling stories to change minds, then you have to know what stories are already in those minds." He also suggested 4 great books that describe the narratives that dominate the American 'psyche.'

This is book 2 of 4.
Mar 20, 2015 Montana rated it it was amazing
i loved this book because it said bold things about the cluttered nature of television in our lives and the power of simple observation. I am unsure if I can live the kind of spartan life and mckibben seems to have. But I admire it because it seems paced better than the average haggard 21st century life. I guess mostly I admired this book because it wanted to discuss that contradiction and that seems a better solution than tuning in and out constantly.
Caitlin EVHS Ng
Feb 12, 2015 Caitlin EVHS Ng rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I am mostly a fan of fictional novels, I do feel that this book was an interesting read. Not only is it helpful for my research paper about technology/social media, but it also stresses why turning off the TV is a pretty good idea. This book offers much insight about how we,as a society, are actually shorting ourselves of opportunity. If you disagree with this statement, I would recommend reading this book; or even if you agree, read what McKibben has to share.
Aug 13, 2014 Benja rated it it was amazing
In a surprisingly balanced and truthful experiment this book blends description, analysis and understanding of televised and natural information. Rethinking what we learn and what we miss. 2232 hours (93 days) of TV broadcast during 1 day is watched over months and contrasted with 1 day in the woods. But TV and the woods are only the foreground of this exploration of how experience and expression interact.
Marjorie Gray
Feb 06, 2015 Marjorie Gray rated it it was amazing
McKibben's books are ageless, timeless. Sadly, this one published in '92 is all the more timely today. Insightful personal, national and global reflections shine in each chapter based on times of day over a 24 hour period. Poetic and down-to-earth, persuasive essays awaken hope: "What you do every day forms your mind." It's never too late for renewal.
Becky Fowler
Aug 02, 2011 Becky Fowler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written 20 years ago, this book still strikes a strong chord. I have a love-hate with television myself and know if I find myself in a rut, killing my TV seems to bring instant and (surprisingly?) only fleetingly painful change. McKibbon's conclusion is that having information constantly streamed at us actually makes us less informed because (1) there's no time to reflect and internalize information and (2) it's hard to separate the important from the banal.

Additionally, we isolate ourselves aw
Nick Mather
Although the book is a bit dated, I think McKibben's argument is still valid - that television has the effect of creating a false reality where the individual viewer is the center of a universe that is completely disconnected from our neighbors and nature. Originally written in 1992 it suffers by not considering the massive changes to media since then, including a narrowing of ownership, the plethora of "reality" shows (he does mention this briefly in anew afterword) and most importantly the Int ...more
Nov 13, 2015 Jamie rated it really liked it
A little outdated, but still some good thoughts on the dichotomy between nature and media/technology.
We're told we live in the information age. Do we? What kind of information? What kind is left out? What do we do with it? Is it worth having, and does it replace information that would be better worth having? Some of this is dated (the book was published in 1992), but most of the changes (cell phones, the ubiquitousness of personal computers, social networking, ipods, wireless computing, blackberries and text messaging, and so forth--all more recent inventions than we usually remember) don't inv ...more
Apr 30, 2014 Maggie rated it really liked it
I would describe this book as Walden with a touch of The World is Flat...

Also known as me feeling a heck of a lot smarter upon finishing it.
Mar 06, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
Written in the early 90s, it's a bit out of touch with modern technology or the even wider divide that computers and the internet have created, but much of what he has to say is overall still the same and perhaps in some ways even more relevant. It was interesting to read about some of the television shows and remembering when I watched them. The parallels of television and our disinterest in the greater world and nature is even more an issue now, and if people can get past the dated references, ...more
Patrick M.
Jul 08, 2010 Patrick M. rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-nature
Just brilliant.

The only problem is the huge amount of late Eighties/early Nineties cultural references. Given the premise of the book, they're unavoidable, but it can give the book a retro feel at times. Or maybe I'm just ashamed that I caught about 90% of the references, and like McKibben, a disturbingly high percentage of my childhood memories have to do with TV - in my case, the Eighties.

Now I've got the Growing Pains theme song stuck in my head. Grrrr.
May 07, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it
I first read this twenty years ago as an incoming college freshman. Whoops. Wait. First-year. In some ways the book is date (Internet...what's the internet) but the concept remains solid. What have we given up in return for the information that is now so readily at our fingertips. It makes me rethink my media consumption and my time spent out of doors....he writes in an online book review.
Jeff HansPetersen
Sep 24, 2008 Jeff HansPetersen rated it really liked it
I've been eager to read this book since I heard Bill McKibben speak on Alternative Radio last year. This book is a reflection on his expereince watching the a single day's entire broadcast recorded from every station offered by the largest American cable provider in the late 1980s. I figured I'd read about his experience before spending 7 years doing the same experiment with DirectTV.
Aug 14, 2008 katie rated it did not like it
I ILL'ed this book as it came highly recommended to me by a friend, but, when I began reading it, I found it incredibly belabored and fairly dry. I felt like I'd read many books that argued the same thing, and McKibben's outlook did not add much to the knowledge/opinions I'd already developed. I ended up not reading past the third chapter. Too bad, as the premise is intriguing.
Nov 25, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Bill McKibben makes a case for the idea that time spent alone in the wild actually provides better information than time in front of the tube—information about our bodies, the worth of nature, the passage of time, our own smallness. His claim that television shields and distracts us from some of the information that is most important for us is surprisingly convincing.
Jul 13, 2013 Elizabeth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I have to be honest, my review is based on what I remember from being forced to read it for freshman orientation at central Michigan university in 1996. I didn't care for it. Was even more annoyed when I found out that there was no real requirement to read out, at least, no accountability. I should probably give it a reread as an adult.
May 10, 2009 Fred rated it really liked it
This crazy author coerced 100 of his friends into taping the same 24-hour period on each of the 100 channels in his cable TV subscription. Then he watched ALL of the tapes, simply to compare it to what he learned by spending 24 hours camping by his favorite alpine lake. It's a satisfying read if you hate television.
David Gross
Mar 07, 2009 David Gross rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
McKibben got a group of friends to tape all 24 hours of television available on the 103 channels in his area and then he watched every hour. After he recovered from this media deluge, he wrote about his experience and compared it to 24 hours spent far away from a television screen. Fascinating and well-written.
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Bill McKibben is the author of Eaarth, The End of Nature, Deep Economy, Enough, Fight Global Warming Now, The Bill McKibben Reader, and numerous other books. He is the founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and, and was among the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. In 2010 The Boston Globe called him "probably the nation's leading environmentalist," and Time maga ...more
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“TV makes it so easy to postpone living for another half hour.” 44 likes
“we use TV as we use tranquilizers- to even things out, to blot out unpleasantness, to dilute confusion, distress, unhappiness, loneliness.” 19 likes
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