Information Overload

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In case nobody noticed, we live in a world where we are continually inundated by a deluge of information from a myriad of sources. There are podcasts, books, websites, not to mention mainstream media (increasingly less reliable and unbiased than it ought to be) and social media (which I consider highly dangerous). On top of that there are countless self-help sites, a plethora of different philosophies, 18,000 supplements to choose from, hundreds of different types of workouts, a myriad of meditation techniques, hundreds of new apps for your devices, burgeoning security issues …? I’m totally overwhelmed at times. What to do?

Even I put out a lot of information about many things that I have researched and discovered. I try to be careful about what I put out – but even so …  

So again, what to do?

Maintenance are those chores needed to 'maintain' your life. Paying bills, cleaning house, fixing your car, etc.

Maintenance are those chores needed to 'maintain' your life. Paying bills, cleaning house, fixing your car, etc.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Your time is the most valuable resource you will ever have. Be very careful how you spend it. You have, on average, 16 hours a day, to devote to life, the universe, and everything. I believe that you should never stop trying to learn, that you should explore new vistas, but be very careful of wasting your time on dead ends. And don’t skimp on sleep either. Trying to get more time by skimping on sleep is craziness.

So, to start with, when you are making choices about what you are going to do … view it through the filter of the 16 hours you have available each day. Do you really want to do … whatever …? Would it have been better to say ‘no’ to somebody about something they asked you to do? I know in my life there are many times I have wasted time doing things simply because I was reluctant to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ is an incredibly useful life skill to have. If interested there is a book on essentialism that I read that was worth buying by Greg McKeown.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of Wisdom
— Aristotle

In addition, I think it is crucial that one knows oneself. Why is that? Because if you don’t [know yourself], it will be very difficult for you to understand what it is that you want to get out of your available time. Having said that, I realize, at least for me, that getting to know yourself is a continual work in progress. Hopefully, at my stage in life I have a grasp on most of me, but there is continual fine tuning going on.

Don't shut yourself off from the world as way of coping though. That is a bad idea. I did that for quite some years, and I am still, in some ways, paying for it. There are a lot of things going on in the world, and I think, as a participating human being, you need to be aware of them. And numerous studies have shown that a network of close friends that you stay in touch with is vital for your health.

It is a bad idea to constantly delve into the morass of bad and negative news that the mainstream media loves to lead with, because that can indeed lead to frustration and a sense of helplessness. But you should be at least aware of what is going on in the world. That is a survival trait.

Another equally erroneous extreme though, would be to filter everything that you are seeing according to only what you like. That’s the same as living in an echo chamber. All you will ever see is the stuff that you agree with and that I believe, will lead to a state of provincial, parochial ignorance. Not a good place to be.

I believe the middle ground is to learn how to skim many topics at a high level quickly. Get a sense of the world as a whole, and then explore a variety of topics. This does require the ability to evaluate what you are looking at quickly. In my early days of listening to podcasts I used to think that if I was following a podcast I had to listen to each episode from that channel completely. That’s quite time-consuming. I have now realized that the quality of the speakers and the information offered through podcasts is just like it is anywhere else. Horribly uneven. Some are quite good, some are nothing more than people attempting to sell whatever their latest book is, or quite honestly, blithering to fill up airtime. So as soon as you have caught on -- stop listening and move on.

I do find that going through podcasts is a good way to explore new horizons. I may not follow the new horizons very far, but at least once every few weeks I attempt to listen to some completely new podcasts and sources of information just to expose myself to something new. I’m also attempting to, at least once a month, read a nonfiction book of some type. Could be economics, could be mathematics, could be brain hacking. In my opinion none of that is wasted time. Even if the information is not that great, you should be able to glean something out of it. And if your analysis skills are good you should be able to tell within 2 to 3 chapters at the most whether you are wasting your time. And if you think you are (wasting your time that is), don’t be afraid to stop and write off what you invested in the book (time and / or money). [I just ran across a website called www.blinkist.com – summarizes non-fiction books – haven’t tried it yet – just thought I’d mention it]

I am still learning that I need to hoard my time jealously. I’m getting better at it, but it is a constant struggle. It is so easy to dive down a rabbit hole to nowhere.

Great quote! Now I just need to put it into practice :-)

Great quote! Now I just need to put it into practice :-)

But the last eighteen months has been an incredible journey for me. I have learned so much, and certainly I have improved myself a great deal. But during that year I did waste some time flailing away in blind alleys. That in itself was a learning experience. Nonetheless, I am making a conscious effort to be parsimonious with my time.

But even while guarding my time, I never want to stop learning. There is so much cool stuff to learn about and so little time to do it in. There are some things I just like to know about, whether it is immediately useful or not. I’m teaching myself calculus again. Why? It appeals to me. And I believe that learning is good for you, no matter what age. It exercises one’s mind. 

So, anyway, how do you keep afloat and oriented in this ocean of information?

Common sense is a good start. First and best weapon in the arsenal.

Build a ‘toolbox’ of good reference sites on the web that you can go to in order to gather news or initiate research. BBC, PBS, etc. for news, and other websites depending on your particular areas of interest. I like the BBC because I find them relatively unbiased and professional. In addition, just by scrolling down their website, in about a minute, I can get a very good idea of the state of the world. That’s all I need. And if you see something that you really need to examine further, then of course you can. But scanning world news this way is infinitely better than subjecting yourself to the news on TV.

For staying aware of the world, you need to skim at a high level, and filter based on getting information that you need -- without being overwhelmed by the drama and sucked into the clickbait vortex. An example is the recent shooting in Texas (Sutherland Springs). I observed that the news services had a huge number of stories (tear jerkers) about individuals and how they barely missed being shot or talking about their close neighbor who didn’t (miss getting shot). I don’t mean to sound callous, but none of that is germane. Even the BBC had stories like this. Don’t click on those. Understand the basic story and move on. And guess what? If you can’t control what you are reading about, try not to get upset about it. (And I totally understand how difficult that is to do)

For self-improvement (health, fitness, weight loss, diet, meditation, etc.) the keys are focus, self-experimentation, and tracking results. And, to pound it home, know yourself. Understand what it is you want to change (and why).

Focus on one small thing at a time. When trying to approach self-experimentation scientifically, changing multiple variables simultaneously is counterproductive. Change one small thing at a time and take the time to see if it is working. Then, once you have seen the results (or lack thereof) you can move on to the next thing. Change won’t happen overnight. Take small steps and revel in small victories.

People CANNOT multi-task BTW ...

People CANNOT multi-task BTW ...

If you are going to try something, know what you are expecting to see in the first place, establish your baseline, and track the results. It is silly to read an article on a supplement and then blindly start to take it, without having some idea of what you expect to see from it. I say this because I have been guilty of doing exactly that. If you are taking a supplement or medication, for example to help with your cholesterol levels, you should resign yourself to getting stuck with the needle every 2 to 3 months, so that you can monitor your cholesterol levels. Taking the medication and not checking or doing blood tests is an exercise in futility. Not all is needles however. There are so many options available these days for tracking physical parameters. Blood pressure machines, scales, Bio-impedance measurement devices, etc. Look into them and use what you need.

Develop good habits. I have found that having a routine (as I have described in earlier blog posts) is really helpful. My morning routine certainly helps me immensely in staying focused and accomplishing my priorities. And when I stray from them, it is startlingly easy to lose focus and get distracted. Speaking of distractions ...

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Regarding social media. I’m probably wasting my time talking about this. But I really believe it is more dangerous than anyone really understands. The majority of users:

  • Fail to understand that they are not customers of the social media companies. They are the ‘PRODUCT’ of the social media site (need that explained?) I'm hoping its pretty obvious
  • Think getting a ‘like’ actually means something
  • Fail to understand that once photos or messages are out there you have lost control of them (forever)
  • Fail to understand the amount of time that they waste there is lost forever and for no good purpose (kind of like watching team sports)

If it was up to me, I would set up something like Slack or Keybase just for my small tribe of people, and that would be the only ‘social media’ I would use. It would be a limited and secure way of sharing things with your own tribe. Sadly, despite repeated attempts, I have not been elicit enough interest to make this fly with my own small tribe of close friends. They simply aren’t interested (they always have reasons of course). As well, almost certainly, their tribes are vastly larger than mine. I may truly be an anachronism in this day and age. Regardless, I just don’t use social media at all. **As an aside, when I use the word 'tribe' - I don't mean it in an elitist, exclusionist sense that anybody not of the tribe is somehow 'lesser' or 'bad' in some way. Not at all. I am simply referring to my inner circle of very close friends. No more, no less. **

So, there is my advice, for what it’s worth, on how to deal with information overload.

And – my parting shot. Remember to prioritize yourself first. Regardless of who you have depending on you, put yourself first. Common sense, remember? If you are not healthy, organized, and calm, how will you be able to effectively help those you care about?