TMI (Too Much Information) is one of the few ATIs (Acronymic Text/Tweet Initials) that have made their way into oral English; unlike the mouthful ROTFL, or the unhelpful WTF which took longer to say than the phrase it abbreviated.
Now, as many are dying out in the wake of the all-conquering Emoji, the ATIs with the best chances for survival seem to be the ones that have made the leap from blips to lips, text into spoken word, like FYI, LOL and the ATI which comes with its own American accentuation: OMG.
The ATI is no recent phenomenon. Our fondness for overused phrases, that are so clichéd they can be happily acronymised and still understood, have underpinned the history of long distance communications. SWALK, OTT and TTFN hail from the age of letters. TWTWTW is an abbreviation only understood by people over 60 and, now lost from the early days of email, TFIF was such a popular prelude to the weekend, a restaurant chain extolled the less secular version with TGI Friday’s.
New ATIs are still bubbling up. My teenage children are chronic FOMO sufferers which keeps them glued to half a dozen social networks and cutting edge hangover sufferers message workmates about being NSFW. Neither, I imagine, will make it into long term parlance.
“TMI”, however, is in a class of its own. It’s a phrase, a punchline and put-down all in three letters. For many it’s the de facto response for anybody caught “oversharing”; which, in this era of social media, is an ever present danger:
“Sorry love, I was just upstairs giving your mother a bit.”
“Oh gross! TMI Dad.”
“A ‘bit’ for the drill. She’s fixing the shelves up there. OMG!”
But “TMI” is so much more than a teen putdown, it sums up the central malaise of this Information Age, it is the stress factor in all our lives that feeds anxiety, distress and depression; it underlies all our modern fears: we know too much; all of us have TMI.
Every pleasure, every adventure, every moment of our lives is not just informed, it’s overinformed, data deluged, we’re informationed-out.
I can’t eat a thing without being aware of the calories, the dangers of sugar, the presence of E Numbers and the findings of half a dozen conflicting reports about the perils or benefits of every ingredient.
Can’t go for a walk without considering the potential effects of pollution, the benefits of Vitamin D, the dangers of ultraviolet and the possibilities of melanomas. Can’t enjoy a warm day without wondering about, global warming, ozone depletion or solar radiation. Can’t get on a bicycle and not think of how many have died under truck wheels in London this year, or get in a car and ignore the depletion of fossil fuels. On the bus I’m calculating the number of people with colds who have wiped their hands on the holding bars and, who gets on a plane without a mind-full stat-fest of relative dangers?
Can’t sip a drink without wondering about rohypnol, liver function or the destruction of brain cells, can’t use a computer without contemplating RSI or carpel tunnel syndrome, watch the TV without ruminating on melatonin levels or use a mobile phone without deliberating on the radiation threat.
My kids don’t play in the streets because, however small the paedophile population might be, I KNOW that they are out there and, whilst we’re playing the numbers game, if everyone else is locking up their kids, there are less kids available for the bogeymen. So if my own kids were off the chain they’d be statistically more likely to fall prey. I crunch the numbers and live in a data hellhole. Everything is a constantly informed risk assessment.
And even when it’s not about risks, I can’t go anywhere without Google getting there first, I can’t watch a sunset without having a million other instagrammed sunsets to compare it with, I can’t even cough without having a billion possible causes just a few clicks away.
Einstein said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.” At the dawning of the Internet in the early nineties, when phrases like “Information Super Highway” could still be said without irony, we believed information was power and power was liberating. We saw the informed future as a golden social opportunity.
Turns out that the web model for life in the 21st century isn’t Wikipedia, where experts and impassioned enthusiasts become the guardians and disseminators of knowledge in their fields, there for all to consult. No. It’s Tripadvisor. A febrile, constantly contradictory, web of the wise, the lies and total surmise, where genuinely helpful information is lost in a morass of petty judgements and terrible terrible opinions with no real way to discern between what might be useful and what, as it turns out, is just TFS.
Glossary of ATIs (Acronymic Text Initials)
ROTFL – Roll On The Floor Laughing
WTF – What The F***!
FYI – For Your Information
LOL – Laugh Out Loud
OMG – Oh My God
SWALK – Sealed With A Loving Kiss
OTT – Over The Top
TTFN – Ta Ta For Now
TWTWTW – That Was The Week That Was
TFIF – Thank F*** It’s Friday
TGI – Thank God It’s
FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out
NSFW – Not Safe For Work
TFS – Total F***ing Sh**