Is Information Overload Making Us Nuts? It has for thousands of years.
People don’t run out of dreams – people just run out of time.
Glenn Frey – The Eagles
In 1970, my hero, the brilliant futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that by the turn of the century, we would be in continual information overload. This has come to pass. Today, we consume 34 gigabytes of content or about 100,000 words of information per day. We encounter enough information to fill 174 newspapers. We tend to get overwhelmed but perhaps it is the quality of the information that is causing the stress. For example, the brain processes 400 Billion bits of information per second without causing any distress at all.
The rate of change in our new world has reached such epic proportions that active learners are becoming the leaders of our new world of work. We find active learners devour information. They have responded to the abundance of information with enthusiasm and they use this historic time as an opportunity to grow. But, they are also selective about the information they digest. This is a key difference. Additionally, they don’t become overwhelmed with information, they simply prioritize where they spend their time.
Complaining about “too much information” is nothing new. That irritation seems to be embedded in human DNA for thousands of years.
“What is the point of having countless books and libraries whose titles the owner could scarcely read through in a whole lifetime?”
Seneca – Roman Philosopher – 4 BC
“The growing “multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion” could prompt the kind of collapse that befell Seneca’s civilization, leading to -style barbarism.”
Adrien Baillet – French Scholar – 1685
“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.”
The quality of our lives is directly related to the quality of the information we take in. It is a little like food. If we consume five pounds of fast food per day, there is a price to pay. If we eat healthy and wholesome food, the results will be quite different. In the information space, being selective is also vitally important to our health as well as the quality of our growth.
Recent statistics from Harvard Business Review indicate how vitally important the quality of information is:
- Ringing phones and e-mail alerts lower IQs by 10 points
- Knowledge workers average 20 hours a week managing e-mail
- Information overload costs the U.S. economy $900 billion a year
- 60% of computer users check e-mail in the bathroom
- A typical knowledge worker turns to e-mail 50-100 times a day
Some of us embrace the notion that we are helpless. But, this is completely untrue. Information filtering is an emerging technology that will give us greater control over what we read and what we see. But, there is a great deal we can do before technology manages the quality of information for us.
Here are a few:
- Limit watching the news for 30 minutes a day. This will lower the probability of having your head explode like a Fembot from Austin Powers.
- Set up filters on social media to limit seeing issues that are of interest to you. Some of us want to keep track of Kim Kardashian’s whereabouts and some do not.
- If you work in a large organization, encourage everyone to stop sending cover-your-ass e-mails.
- Set-up Favorites on your TV, YouTube, Google feeds.
- Recognize that Artificial Intelligence is growing at such a rate that all of us will have the ability to curate the kind of information that helps us grow in ways that fit our aspirations and dreams. Keep track of this new resource. It will become life changing.
- Turn off the cell phone for just two of your waking hours.
- Do not sleep with your cell phone.
- If a new connection on LinkedIn sends you a large spammy sales pitch, perhaps it would be better to disconnect.
In today’s new world, establishing standards for information consumption, is critical to the quality of our growth. When I come across a new source of information, my most coming question is,
“Will this take me back to defending or explaining my past when I need all of my attention on the future?”
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