“Information Anxiety is now a recognized psychological condition…” writes Nury Vittachi, author of more than 20 commendable books, in his latest, “The Kamasutra of Business” (John Wiley, 2007).

He goes further to state: “….some people are beginning to realize that need to stop building databases and start thinking about what we already know.” For, as he rightly believes, “Today, we may know more facts. But that doesn’t mean that we are wiser.”

Apparently, Vittachi is talking about the excesses resulting from the Free Flow of Information, thanks to Internet and the Web.

Information Anxiety however, can also attack those with a very little or no excess to such Free Flow of Information. For instance, the desert people of the Interior Arabia: In the olden days, they were separated from the rest of the world. They lived in the world of their own. They had little or no knowledge at all of what was happening in the rest of the world. Any new information would need decades to reach them.

It is therefore not surprising that they became very hungry for news, any news. They even greeted each other with a standard question: “What’s the news?” They suffered from “Information Anxiety”. And, Anxiety, any kind of Anxiety, is a sickness.

The sickness affected part of their brain, which made them wild, rough and tough. Fine for them, for life there wasn’t easy either. Only the rough and tough could survive. Their sickness was a blessing in disguise – that is, for them!

It would take them more than two millennia and tens of prophets to soften their hearts. As the heart softened, the greeting too changed. It was no longer “Khair Khabar?” or “What’s the news?” – but, Shalom or Salaam, “Peace be upon thee!”

Rest of Asia did not so much suffer from this kind of anxiety. At least, we, living in the archipelago did not suffer from it. We were seafaring people. We were merchants. We had easier excess to information. It is rather surprising therefore, that we adopted their greeting in Indonesia, “Apa kabar?” – What’s the news? Indeed, the word “Kabar” is from Arabic “Khabar”.

That was not the way we greeted each other before the Arabic influence. Not that we did not care for the news – we did. However, we did not focus all our energies on gathering news and information. We cared more for the kind of knowledge and information that could bring about some transformation – Inner Transformation.

We cared for reading material that carried some value. When newspapers were introduces, we first called them Surat Kabar or News Letter, but later changed to Koran or Reading Material. And, Koran is a very powerful word. It is from Arabic for Reading. Not just any reading, but Holy Reading – Reading that could turn our minds and hearts holier. The Holy Scripture, in Arabic, is called Qur’an.
Coming back to the way we greeted each other…..
While greeting we hoped and prayed for each other’s well-being.  And, we have a long tradition of defining “well-being” as the well being of not only our bodies, but our minds, our feelings, and our souls. We believed in the totality of human experience.

Long before the west began to talk about Intellectual and Emotional Quotients – we were already practicing Sembah Cipta and Sembah Rasa. We also knew that Spirituality could not be measured, and therefore we did not separate it and called it Spiritual Quotient. We rather incorporated Spirituality into all the layers of human consciousness as Persembahan or Loving Devotion, Offering.

We looked at things lovingly. We thought and felt compassionately. We worked devotedly. From dawn until dusk we lived cheerfully, and at night we slept peacefully.

Our View of Life has been simple, but very clear. We did not speculate and philosophize – we put spirituality into daily practice. As such, we did not suffer from any kind of anxiety. We lived a life of prayerfulness. Indeed, we did not even separate Religion and God from Life. We did not have to set apart certain hours for prayers. Our whole life was prayerful. Anxiety was therefore, foreign to us.

This is the reason why we were so easy to adapt to the New Era of Science and Technology. We welcomed the Free Flow of Information. We did not, for instance, have the kind of problems faced by the Saudis and Wahabis in the interior of Arabia. There, the free flow of information is still seen suspiciously. Modernity is being accepted very shyly, and that too piece-by-piece, bit-by-bit.

Progress and Transformation are often rejected in the name of religion that is progressive and therefore transformative by its very nature. They do not realize that such unnatural rejection has caused conflict in their minds.

The more exposed they are to internet and electronic media broadcast from all over, including other countries in their own neighborhood – the more confused they become.

The clergies opposed to modernity perceive it as evil and contrary to their beliefs and customs. And, the regime that can only remain in power with the support of the clergies must “officially” stand by such perception.

I have heard from at least three very reliable sources that the Saudi women traveling out of the country would always unveil themselves the moment their plane leaves Saudi soil and air. Asked if that was not against their beliefs, their reply was, “No, not belief. That is part of our customs there. We do not have to carry such customs overseas.”

Women living in such a society suffer more from Information Anxiety. They are always hungry for news, any kind of news. The sickness gets worsened among those who do not travel overseas, or seldom leave the Saudi soil. If you have ever befriended any of them, you should know what I mean.

Back home, the condition of their men-folks is a bit better. That is, Now. Just 50 years back, they were in no better condition. They suffered from Information Anxiety in almost the same degree as the women-folks. As compensation, every evening they would gather and gossip over the smoke from their shisha.

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Arabia then and Arabia now…..
Not that there has been no change whatsoever, things have changed, but at a very low pace. This is particularly true with the part of Arabia controlled by the royal family of King Saud, the Saudis – Saudi Arabia.

Anxiety is a Psychological Disorder. Normally, we do not detect it until it takes the form of sickness. A person suffering from Anxiety Disorder may take 6 months or even years, depending on his or her body defenses and immune system, to show medically detectable physical symptoms.  Until then, he suffers mentally and emotionally.

Those of us striving to transfer the culture and customs of Arabia to Indonesia – must understand that with their culture and customs, we shall be importing their sicknesses. Indeed, in our ignorance we may have done that already. There are districts where Arabic culture and customs, language and dress-code have been introduced and enforced with the consent of the local authorities and blessings of political parties in power. Ignorance of our leaders and blindness of our people, alas, may result in the destruction of entire society.

Destruction of the society begins with conflict in the minds of people. And, this conflict can already be seen by the people with eyes to see. This conflict can already be smelled and sensed by the more sensible people of our society. These are the people who must now “raise” their voices. Just speaking about it in the seminars will not do. Discussions with people of similar mind-frame will not solve any problem. By raising the voice, I mean that they must go down the streets and sweat a bit. Talk to the commoners whose minds have already been poisoned.

If the Society must grow and progress, than the free flow of information cannot be stopped. It should rather be directed wisely in order to bring about transformation and change for the betterment of the society. We have certain cultural values which are universal, which are still relevant. While holding on to them, we must also welcome modernity. Norms, customs, and traditions, especially the foreign ones which were in the past forced upon us in the name of religion, and hindering our present growth and progress must be given up.

High time we leave “Apa Kabar” in favour of our own “Rahayu” meaning Peace and Prosperity, or whatever form of greeting that is more in line with our natural texture. Shunning “apa kabar” in favour of our own form of greeting, is not just shunning of a greeting. It is the shunning of all and everything that is not in line with our nature which is already sublime and divine. It is the shunning of a disease.

Don’t you imitate those who burnt the books written by Ibn Rusyd, just because he did not see eye-to-eye with the clergies supporting the regime. Don’t you ever repeat the mistake of putting Mansur to death just because he believes differently from you. In doing so, you shall be guilty of both, Withholding Information and Creating Information Anxiety.

A community or a group of people living with Information Anxiety may soon get use to it, and lose its sensitivity altogether. On the other hand, a handful that does not lose its sensitivity may grow an unnatural thirst for information and knowledge. They will jump on any available piece of information indiscriminately.

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Just look at what has happened to our youth today…..
Decades back we banned Marxism and literature on Marx’s teachings. Implicitly, we even labeled one our own founding fathers, Bung Karno, as Marxist. I am not an exponent of Marx and Marxism. I do not fully agree with Marx. I do not endorse to his teachings. And yet, the banning business does not make sense to me.

To do service to the community, we have our age-old concept of Gotong-Royong. I do agree that Marx has some ideas which are relevant to the age. But, he also has ideas upon ideas that I do not agree with. So, what do I do? Burn his books? Ban his teachings? Or, equip myself with a filter system – accept the good, leave the bad.

I do not have to kill Marx for the ideas that I do not agree with. What I consider bad and not suitable to me – may not be bad for others. They may be suitable to others. What right do I have to force my opinion unto others?

By banning Marx and Marxism, we starved our younger generation of information. We created Information Anxiety in them. They would surf the net and try to gather any information of Marx. Now, with more freedom that we are enjoying, all of sudden books on Marx and Marxism appear in dozens. There are book-lovers’ communities discussing the teachings. Marx may have lost ground in the once Soviet Republic of Russia and the Eastern Europe. Here, he gets an extension of life. Strange, huunh!

If ever communism is reborn in this country, we must blame ourselves for it. We laid ground for its revival. By depriving people of information and literature on Marx, his teachings, Communism and its weaknesses as well as strength – we have in fact created hunger for those very things.

Majority of today’s youth appearing sympathetic toward Marx, Marxism, even Communism may not have an inkling of what those three big words stand for. They are just rebelling against the ban we imposed. That’s all.

Plus, they get a boost of energy from our radicals, from the so called “fundamental” elements in our society. We forget that fundamentalism is a very fertile ground for fanaticism. Fascism is its flowering. Radicals are the fruits thereof.

Fundamentalism begins as a thought. Fanaticism is already a state of mind; it is the crystallization of fundamentalist thoughts. Fundamentalism is the root; fanaticism is the tree complete with trunk and branches. Fascism is the flowering of that tree. Radicals are the fruits. Mind you, it all begins with a single thought of fundamentalism, which, in the beginning, may have not appeared harmful at all.

This Tree of Disaster is nourishing our youth proudly identifying themselves as “kiri” – the leftists. Their faith in the sayings of Mao and Marx, that religion was poison or opium, is strengthened by this very tree of our creation.

Now, are we distracted from our original discussion on “Information Anxiety”? No, not at all. I shall show you how all these things are interconnected.

What actually is fundamentalism?
Fundamentalism is belief in certain rules and regulations; certain doctrines and dogmas based on a set of scriptures and fashioning or building one’s life or the lives of a community based on such belief. We become over-appreciative toward certain belief, and less so toward others beliefs. But, this is happening inside us, and we may not even be aware of it. On the outside, we may appear quite moderate.

This situation however, sooner or later, must give rise to fanaticism. And, the fanatics go a step further. First, they close their own brains and minds to anything that is not in line with their belief-system. Secondly, they will – if they are in the position to do so – try to impose their belief-system upon others.

In their zeal to create singularity, they would ban anything and everything indiscriminately that they perceive as pluralist evil. Modernity and the Free Flow of Information, both are seen as enemy to singularity that they somehow connect with God. They become fascists, and given a chance they turn into radicals.

*   *   *

Not only the Saudis and Wahabis in their part of Arabia, even the Chinese perceive the free flow of information as evil. The authorities there, in this case the Communist Party, decides what information should be passed on to the people, and what should be withheld.

They do this in full realization of the Information Anxiety created by them. They also know that such anxiety, such hunger for knowledge could turn people wild. Indeed, on several occasions in the past, people did raise their voices against the regime. To lower those voices, the regime would always act fast and violently. After the Tiananmen incident, the authorities there managed to create such fear in the hearts of the populace, that they have not raised their voices again, at least not so vocally.

For how long can you deprive people of their rights?
Bung Karno, one of Modern Indonesia’s Founding Fathers, believed that even an insect would try to escape if stamped upon. History bears witness to revolutions and toppling of unjust regimes by a handful of people decided in their minds not to bear injustice any more.

It is indeed interesting to note that the very first act of injustice done by any unjust government is always the same – that of withholding of information. And, the reason of their stepping down remains the same too – flow of information against the excesses and injustice done by them.

Creating hindrance to the Flow of Information carries a very heavy Karmic Penalty not only for its creator, but also for those who endorse it, or silently accept it. Hence, even the populace keeping their mouths shut out of fear – must suffer for their cowardice.

*   *   *

Coming back to Nury Vittachi whom I quoted in the beginning of this discussion, let us now look at the excesses due to the free flow of information. First, we must once again listen to what Vittachi is saying: “Information Anxiety is now a recognized psychological condition, and some people are beginning to realize that need to stop building databases and start thinking about what we already know.

“Today, we may know more facts. But that doesn’t mean that we are wiser” – this is equally true. Anxiety can also be created by the Excessive Flow of Information. Most of the developed nations are suffering from this kind of anxiety, be they in the west or in the east. Indeed, certain segments of society in all the countries, segments fully exposed to internet and the web – also suffer from it.

Surfing for information for more than 3-4 hours each day kills our ability to think and contemplate on whatever information we already have. We become so dependent on net and web-based information that we can hardly make any decision without consulting them. In the beginning, this may appear to be harmless. Later, it affects our creativity. We become less and less innovative.

This is the phenomenon that Vittachi is commenting upon: “….. the possession of facts doesn’t mean that we are wiser – and may mean the opposite. Perhaps humanity’s most successful thinkers are likely to be those who are not distracted by the so-called information tools that surround us today: the internet and the television and electronic searchable library databases. It may well be true that the more of these information-thrusting ‘productive aids’ we have, the less we actually achieve in terms of measured, sustained, creative thought.”

Trying to read between the lines, I find Vittachi advocating for “free flow of information” minus the so called“tools” and “aids” that expedite the flow in an unnatural way.

Free Flow is Flowing Freely.
The Flow is neither hindered or stopped, nor expedited in an unnatural way. The speed is not slowed down, and not fastened. Any intervention to the flow, and for whatever reason, kills its freedom to flow naturally.

This is like the case of Avian Flu in our region.
A scientist friend of mine discloses some facts which are mind boggling. His findings are yet to be made public. I am trying to translate them into popular and easy-to-understand language:

Avian Flu, it seems, has been around for more years than we can remember. Albeit, in its much milder form. The virus would kill the birds and the chickens, but would not attack humans. It was powerless against the natural defenses and resistance of human body.

We, in Indonesia, were quite safe as long as we ate more vegetables and fish following our own dietary norms. We did eat chicken and meat, but not so much as to make poultry a lucrative business. Then, came the fast-food restaurants, increasing the demand for chicken and other meats. Poultry became a lucrative business. We began to “unnaturally” “grow” eggs and “producing” birds. These unnatural acts of ours seem to intervene with the gene of the birds. Their immune system was disturbed.  Undetected for years, this disturbance is now the epidemic Bird Flu attacking even human beings.

I am reminded of Lao Tzu’s advice for not intervening with Nature. Allow Nature to take its course. Any intervention is unnatural, therefore goes against the very nature of Nature.

To starve for information is unnatural.
To fill ourselves with more than what we need – is equally unnatural. We must know our need, our requirement, and fill ourselves only with what is needed, what is required. We must learn to avoid the extremes and find our own Middle Way as suggested by the Buddha.

Present Age promises comforts, opportunities, means and ways such as never imagined before. But, to make use of such comforts, such opportunities, means and ways, we must have the necessary wisdom. We must grow wiser. We must go within ourselves and find the roots of wisdom therein. What a real waste it would be, if we do not make use of this rare golden chance of being born in this age, by developing unnecessary anxiety.

The people and the governments, the clergies and the politicians, the business people and the industrialists, the artists and the writers, the poets, the professionals in all fields and in every nation – must come forward and work together to make life anxiety-free.

Free Flow of Information cannot be withheld or stopped, web and internet are here to stay and grow further – so we have to accept them while trimming off the excesses. Not hindering the flow, also not expediting it. Or, better still, to create a filter system within us, so we can wisely identify our needs and take only what is needed.

All said and done, Information Anxiety is a disease. It is not a natural phenomenon. It can only be cured if live our lives in accordance with nature and its flow. Happy Living Naturally