Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Drinking From a Firehose?

Are you glued to your smartphone? Do you feel as if you're slugging your way through a data fog? Do you feel you have way too much information—so much so that it makes it hard if not impossible to weed out what you need, what is true, or even what is right for you? You're not alone—not by a long shot. Most of us are suffering from what back in 1970 in his book Future Shock,  Alvin Toffler termed “information overload.” And, that was 42 years ago.

Today the amount of data being stored doubles every 18 months (The Economist). We have emails to answer, social networking to manage, texts and tweets requiring our immediate response, and YouTube videos to pass on to our virtual friends. Then we have the office, where we attend meetings, make decisions, work too hard for too little. We make time for home, our families and a literal deluge of needs to be met. If you’ve heard the phrases, data smog, cognitive overload, information fatigue syndrome, and time famine, you are familiar with information overload. You can probably also relate to the fact that the term “wired” is now defined as both “connected to the internet,” and “frantic, high, and unable to concentrate.”

And, now, let's add wellness and well-being to the mix. Information overload can result in feelings of anxiousness. Research shows that multitasking actually makes us less productive (except in the production of stress hormones, which goes up). Other symptoms include increased cardiovascular stress, impaired judgment, weakened vision and increased blood pressure.

How much information do we need to be satisfied, yet not left feeling stuffed—sort of like the portions we often find on our plates. We know we don’t have to eat it all. What if we think of the overwhelming amount of information in terms of useful portions, using reasonable discretion in terms of how much we digest and how often, rather than choking on too much?

And, like with our nutritional choices and decisions, all the information we’re faced with isn’t necessarily true. Are potatoes really evil? Is milk good or bad for you? How much sodium really is too much? Sorting out the conflicting reports is a form of information overload all by itself.

Consider what might happen if we start to ration our information intake. What happens if we “unwire” ourselves from time to time? In our Team Esteem Challenges we talk about making “modest but meaningful changes,” in reference to lifestyle behaviors and choices. Using the food analogy, in the same way we require food, yes, we need information. But, just as with food, we need to remind ourselves that we have control over the information we let into our lives. 

Now,  just as with our nutritional choices, where information is concerned, all information and all calories are not created equal. But, if we put a little less on our plates, we still benefit from a balanced meal—without the extra calories. Social psychologists point out that an individual’s consciousness is formed over time by the information and stimuli experienced. Do you really want to think of your consciousness as the result of data glut?  

As an alternative, by being mindful of our information overload, what do you think might happen by deciding to "decrease quantity, and increase quality?" It’s an interesting question, and one we can each answer for ourselves. We’d like to hear some of your solutions.

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