October 3, 2017

Information Overload: Why Do We Do It To Ourselves?

information overload

As far as relatively trivial first-world problems go, the sort of "information overload" you often hear people complaining about has to rank up there with the most trivial. I suppose people can mean different things by information overload, but most of those I've heard complaining about it (including myself) are referring to an overload of news coming from some combination of traditional media outlets and social media. Trying to keep up with all of this is bound to lead to some degree of overload. There's just too much going on for anybody to be able to keep up with it all.

Why do we try to keep up with news to the point of overload? For me, it involves two complementary delusions. First, I have convinced myself that a near constant exposure to the news is necessary for keeping up with what is going on and remaining informed. The problem with this approach is that I do not have enough time in a day to stay on top of everything. Trying to do so leads me to feel overwhelmed. Once I begin to feel overwhelmed, I realize that I have not managed to stay on top of everything and that I am uninformed about much of what is happening in the news cycle.

The second delusion is the worse of the two because it involves my belief that I should keep up with what is going on. I want to be informed, and so I push myself to keep up with as much of what is happening as I can. This leads me to devote too much time and effort to what amounts to a sinkhole. As I mentioned above, it isn't possible to keep on top of everything. Demanding that I do so ends up being the sort of unrealistic expectation that cannot be satisfied.

Having recognized the pattern, I'm working to break it. What has been most helpful so far is asking myself the following:
What do I do with the news information I gather? That is, how does being informed and doing what I can to stay on top of what is happening in the news impact my day-to-day life? What am I doing differently because of it?
I don't do much of anything with the news. Most of it doesn't impact my life (aside from often leading me to feel overwhelmed). I rarely do anything differently because of what I learn from the news. What I learn from the news is sometimes interesting, but it is almost never life-altering. In fact, it is safe to say that being somewhat less informed about the news would not change my life in any appreciable way. I might even feel better.

If trying to stay on top of the latest news is futile, leads me to feel overwhelmed, and produces little return on my investment, then why do I do it? I have no answer, and that means I have no good reason to continue doing it. And so, I am not going to continue doing it. It is time to put my news junkie days behind me and realize that being somewhat less informed about the day's news will not have any negative impact on me. In fact, the additional time it frees up and a reduction information overload might have a positive impact.