Fighting the information firehose

Posted by in Productivity

Fighting the information firehose

Information. Omnipotent and omnipresent, the human species’ unquenchable thirst for it has propelled us beyond all limits of imagination – yet, it harbours an oft-overlooked potential for procrastination.


The perfect excuse


From the very moment we are bourne, the predominant task of the incomparable parallell computer which rests atop our spines is fixed: to execute a continuous acquisition of as much information as possible in order to increase the accuracy of our computed solutions for current and future situations where survival may depend upon the amount of knowledge available.


In essence, we are walking sponges – which works well in an environment where information is limited by nature, but less so when faced with the informational equivalent of a firehose.


Nowadays, our addiction to information may very well be causing us as much harm as benefit, in the sense that we spend time consuming and processing it, which impairs our ability to progress beyond our current state and towards our long-term goals.


Have you noticed how easy it is to slip into a little bit of light news reading, or perhaps extend the TV session a little longer than you intended, or even suddenly realize that it’s one o’clock in the morning and you really didn’t intend to be on Facebook that long – yet for some reason, you did?


If there ever was a true form of addiction, information would be it, and little evidence is required beyond the above mentioned. It is hammered into our DNA in such a way that it is crucial to our survival and as such serves as the perfect excuse for our behaviour – yet it is with information as it is with food: gluttony always comes with precarious side effects, which may not be immediately noticeable.


It’s all about the channels


How many hours would you say you spend every day consuming information of some sort? And, more importantly, how much of it holds true value to you? The problem we face today is the ease with which information can be obtained, which leads us to become distracted – and in many cases, enamored, with it. Regardless of type, information then consumes our time, attention and energy in such a manner as to leave these resources depleted for when we have meaningful things to do.


“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” –Herbert Simon


Let’s take a quick look at how many ways we can have our information delivered, shall we? First up: audio. You can talk to people, but that’s rarely a source for information unless you work as a journalist. A radio, on the other hand, can be left on all day in one’s car and office – and contrary to popular belief, it is by no means just “background noise”. For some people, even music could be counted in.


Then we have the written word, which comes in the shape of e-mails, text messages, instant messages and various other delivery mechanisms such as project management systems. Plus, there’s books, newspapers, magazines and even old-fashioned letters. In the multimedia department, we find television, movies and, of course, the Internet. News sites. YouTube. Facebook. Flickr. Twitter. MySpace. LinkedIn. And the list just keeps going on.


From time to time when news are slow, I see the media tossing the term Internet addiction around. This is rubbish. Nonsense. Poppycock. Hooey.  People are not addicted to the Internet, they are addicted to information. The Internet is simply a delivery system – a series of tubes, if you will.


Activities with benefits


Chances are you already spend quite some time lingering aimlessly in the various channels of information delivery. Are you certain that the time spent consuming information is valuable enough to sacrifice spending quality time with children or a spouse, making room for some quietude, handling a few chores, cooking a high-class meal, having fun with a hobby or perhaps getting some excercise?


Here’s a little challenge for you: stand in front of a mirror, and tell yourself out loud that checking Facebook for the third time today is better for you than some light excercise. Oh, and good luck with that.


What is gained, then, from a reducing the amount of information which you consume? Key to the answer is the fact that information itself consumes time, energy and attention. Consider, if you will, the following example: if you are on your feet all day long, how ready will you be for a bit of soccer or a quick jog when the evening comes? Think about it.


You gain time, energy and attention, which can suddenly be applied with greater force and improved focus upon the activities which matter to you.


Beware, however, of indiscriminate reduction; information is vital to us, and a sufficient consumption will allow us to discover a myriad possibilities which could otherwise have been unknowns. It’s all about the balance.