Information Overload

When our family went to Amman, Jordan in 1997, we went without a phone, internet, or satellite TV for several months.  We often felt cut off and removed from the rest of the world, but it also allowed us to become immersed in the Jordanian culture and the Arabic language and have a lot of sweet and uninterrupted family time.  Life certainly felt simpler, uncluttered, and uncomplicated.

With the advent of the internet, information has become more readily available to all of us than ever before.  This can be useful and positive.  For example, finding a recipe substitution on-line for a missing ingredient while you are cooking can save the day. Looking at Google Maps helps you get to where you want to go and figure out the shortest route to get there. Communicating immediately with someone by e-mail instead of writing them a “snail-mail” letter is so much more convenient and efficient.

Information overload (AKA infobesity, infoxication) is a term that describes when an excess of information results in the decreased ability to make decisions, process information, concentrate on tasks and stay focused.  For example, many people are so busy keeping up with their multiple social media feeds that they don’t get their work or studying done well or on time.

“Instantaneous devices” and the abundance of information people are exposed to through e-mail and other technology-based sources could be having an impact on the thought process, obstructing deep thinking, understanding, impedes the formation of memories and makes learning more difficult. This condition of “cognitive overload” results in diminished information retaining ability and failing to connect remembrances to experiences stored in the long-term memory, leaving thoughts “thin and scattered”.  Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google

This information “glut”can also keep people from having uninterrupted face-to-face conversations with each other.  We all have been in the situation when we were trying to have a heart-to-heart talk with someone and they kept looking at their phone as they got texts and notifications, leaving us feeling undervalued, unimportant, and even ignored. We’ve also been the distracted one, having to ask “can you say that again?” when we haven’t quite heard everything someone is saying to us.

Some people spend so much time sitting in front of a screen gorging on information that their health suffers.  They may fail to make time for physical activity.  They may develop neck pain (“tech neck”) or back pain from poor posture.  They may not realize how much they are snacking on and end up overeating.

Here are some tips to avoid these negative consequences:

  1. Set aside two or three times of day to check email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and stick to those times only.  Turn off notifications so that you’re not constantly being interrupted in between those times
  2. Limit the time you spend on gaining information that is nice/interesting/fun to know and spend most of your time on those things that you need to know
  3. Focus on the quality of information over the quantity. Be selective. Try to concentrate on things that are encouraging, beneficial, and positive
  4. Keep your mind focused on one issue at a time.  Multi-tasking causes you to do things in a mediocre way.  Give your spouse, child, friend, job or studies your full attention instead of trying to give attention to some or all of them all at once
  5. Say “no!” to FOMO (Fear of missing out) – if you don’t see the picture of what your friend cooked for dinner last night, it’s not a big deal.  If you miss the latest viral video on YouTube, you probably haven’t missed much, and it will be forgotten tomorrow
  6. Stop procrastinating and get your work/studying done.  Set goals and accomplish them.  Don’t find something else to look at and convince yourself that “that thing” is equally important.
  7. Make space to think and reflect by “unplugging”.  When you take a break from any information delivery system, you get immediate relief from information overload and may find you are actually calmer and happier than when you were “in the know”

I hope that I’ve been part of the solution rather than part of problem today. Thanks for reading!

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