Last & Least
Dr Binoy Barman
WE are acquainted with many kinds of 'phobia' which arise from unreasonable fear in human mind. Some of the common phobias are acrophobia / altophobia (fear of heights), aquaphobia / hydrophobia (fear of water), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) and hemophobia / hematophobia (fear of blood). Some phobias may have a rational base while others are quite irrational. For example, algophobia (fear of pain), necrophobia / thanatophobia (fear of death), lygophobia / scotophobia (fear of darkness) and astraphobia / brontophobia (fear of thunder or storms) are quite normal; but anthophobia (fear of flowers) and somniphobia (fear of sleep) cannot be called normal whatsoever. Most outrageous are chorophobia (fear of dancing), ablutophobia (fear of bathing or washing), spectrophobia (fear of mirrors), cibophobia / sitophobia (fear of food) and heliophobia (fear of sunlight).
There are some phobias which are really interesting as they reveal the subtle psychological conditions. Some of them come from human relationship. For example, a woman may be afraid of men, which is called androphobia; and a man may be afraid of women, which is called gynophobia. This is not where the fear ends. One may even be afraid of beautiful women, which is called venustraphobia. One may also fear or dislike children, which is called pedophobia. One may have aversion to particular age as well. If one is afraid of old age, he/she is suffering from gerascophobia / gerontophobia; and if one is afraid of youth, he/she is suffering from ephebiphobia. There may be a tendency to avoid people at all; it is sociophobia / anthropophobia. And someone may have tendency to avoid strangers or foreigners; it is xenophobia.
Certain medical or clinical conditions may cause phobias such as radiophobia (fear of radioactivity or X-rays), tomophobia (fear of surgery), emetophobia (fear of vomiting), mysophobia (fear of contamination), bacillophobia / bacteriophobia / microbiophobia (fear of microbes or bacteria), nosophobia (fear of contracting a disease), nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals), trypanophobia / belonephobia / enetophobia (fear of needles or injections), pharmacophobia (fear of medication), tokophobia (fear of childbirth), traumatophobia (fear of injury) and psychophobia (fear of mental illness).
Of all the phobias, the most unlucky is the triskaidekaphobia / terdekaphobia (fear of the number 13). The reason should be obvious to you; you may blow it away as superstition, though. Another superstitious fear is the fear of ghosts, spectres or phantasms, called phasmophobia. The most widespread is panphobia, when one suffers from a fear of everything or constant fear of an unknown cause. The phobia itself may cause phobia in somebody. It is phobophobia (fear of having a phobia). Life ends in grave, so the most fearsome of all is taphophobia (fear of the grave). Grave or death may cause the feeling of existential absurdity, resulting in nihilophobia (fear of nothingness).
Technological innovations have also given rise to many phobias, the prime of them being technophobia (fear of technology). Particular phobias related to technology are telephonophobia (fear or reluctance of making or taking phone calls), nomophobia (fear of being out of mobile phone contact).
Here I shall acquaint the readers with a new strain of phobia, arising from the use of information technology. I call it 'infobia'. Morphologically, it is a blend of two separate words: 'information' and 'phobia'. So it literally means 'fear of information'. It is a psychological state in which a person feels afraid of information as it comes to him/her in perplexingly huge volume. He/she is so dumbfounded by the enormity of information that he/she can hardly work on it or make any use of it. He/she feels helpless being thrown in utter depression.
This is mainly the problem of an IT user, who works online and relentlessly searches for information. He may be a student, teacher, executive or researcher. When he/she enters a word or phrase in the search engine like Yahoo, Google or MSN and looks at the search results, he/she is just baffled. Not one or two, but a list of one or two million items is brought in front of his/her eyes to be explored. He/she has no option but lose his/her wit in this situation.
If the information gatherer wants to read all of the search results, it will take a huge amount of time. For example, if someone wants to read one million items and spends five minute for each, he/she will need five million minutes, ie, 83,333 hours, ie, 3,472 days, ie, 115 months, ie, 9.64 years, provided one reads through days and nights, without any stop. Mind, it is only with one search. Other searches will bring similar results. How is it possible for a person, being a being of frail body and mind, to handle this Himalayan pile of information? It is virtually impossible.
This impossibility is at the core of the psychological problem we identify as 'infobia'. The more one searches for information in internet the more one is confronted with this sense of impossibility. It ultimately gets on the nerves of the computer user, making him/her sick, leading to psychological breakdown. Though alarming, this is the destiny of anybody browsing internet for information frantically and reading online sincerely. At the present state of circumstances, the search results stay at million level, in future it will rise to the billion level and beyond. Therefore the phobia will certainly be acuter in the days to come.
Apart from the manifestation in individual life, 'infobia' will affect the collective consciousness. With the diversification of knowledge driven by technology, the individuals will get separate from each other and the gap will widen continuously. The society as a whole will fall in communication vacuum as the individuals will suffer from the lack of sufficient shared knowledge. An individual will retain only the virtual identity, forgetting his/her physical identity. The society as a whole will be virtual itself, with the multitude of members in it, without any effective bond.
No doubt, information boom offers tremendous benefit for researchers, but it also makes their job more challenging and hazardous. They browse and scoop as information what they need and what they do not need, in unimaginably large quantity. They may fall in sea when they come to handle them. They will swim in the sea and drift away without any destination, at last to drown in the bottomless depths. The boon of information ultimately turns into a bane. There is also conflicting information. Hence the more one reads the more one is confused. The confusion turns into frustration, giving rise to a sense of failure.
There is another dark side of easy availability of information. As things are already typed and often proof-read and edited, the texts are targeted by information thieves. They grab ready information and use them for their purpose, without any acknowledgement. It saves labour of the people but alongside snatching away their capacity of original thinking and glory of fundamental research. Its negative effect is to be mostly observed on the students and novices. They borrow stuff blindly and present them as their own. They thus indulge in dishonesty, without knowing its far-reaching consequences. In the long run they become parasitic in their thinking, close to intellectual handicap.
Never before in the history of civilization had the pursuers of knowledge faced such a mammoth problem in information seeking. In earlier days reading stuffs were countable and well manageable. As online now, the reading stuffs have risen up the counting curve, to the level of 'unmanageable'. The crowd of information is already bursting at the seam; I don't know what is lying ahead. The whole system may crash one day, throwing all in darkness, full of uncertainty. 'Infobia' will be haunting menacingly. Only future can say how the overcoming of 'infobia' will come about.
(The writer is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, Daffodil International University.)