I recently had a conversation with a friend about the brain and the psychology of social media. It was a completely invigorating conversation, and left me thinking about a lot of different things. I love when other people make me think, particularly when it’s related to our shared passions.
For some, the conversation would have seemed like information overload, and their heads would have been spinning, but for me, it was just perfect. I loved the conversation and am ready for it to continue. But part of the discussion briefly focused on the topic of information overload.
Every day we are confronted with thousands of media messages: advertising, entertainment, information and news. And it comes at us from both on- and off-line sources. People are talking to us (or at us) via the Internet, traditional media, in real life, cell phones, and more.
Admittedly, it’s a lot to process. And for some, it can actually become paralyzing. They don’t know where to turn, so rather than dealing with this so-called “information overload”, they just shut down. Some folks, even professionals in the social media realm, will often take what they call a “social media hiatus” or an “Internet break” in order to recharge and shut down for awhile.
There are people who are studying this sort of thing and the impact it has on our brain and behavior. And I’m hoping that my friend will offer some posts that touch on this down the line, but that’s not the point of this particular post.
I’m here to tell you that perhaps you don’t need to shut down completely. Perhaps there really is no such thing as information overload. Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics, perspective, or interpretation. But there are a few simple things you can do, and keep in mind, as you try to deal with all the information that is out there:
1. There has been always been “too much” information out there – Information exists. It always has. What hasn’t existed is our access to that information. Now, with the Internet, we seemingly have access to everything. In many ways we are no longer bound by the confines of geography, or even time. And yes, there is more information out there than before, but there has always been more than our brains could handle.
2. You are not required to consume everything – No one says you have to read every blog, every tweet, every Facebook status update. If you’re one of my friends on Twitter or Facebook, or a blogger, please don’t take this personally, but I don’t consume your every thought and word. I probably don’t read 90% of your tweets. I can’t consume it all so I don’t even try. For instance, I find a lot of great indie music online. And each time I find a new artist or band that I like, it makes me realize that there must be so much more great music out there that I haven’t discovered yet. But I can’t possibly find or consume it all. So why bother trying? You do NOT need to consume everything that crosses your path.
3. Use filters – We all have built in filters that we use to filter out the “noise”, whether we know it or not. There is a stat that we throw around a lot that says that the average American is confronted with upwards of 3,000 ad impressions each day. Really? Then why don’t we remember them, or act on them? Because we have learned to filter them out. We don’t even notice them. Over time we learn how to create our own built-in brain filters. Use them! And of course there are the active filters we use, such as pop up blockers, spam filters, RSS feeds, Twitter columns and lists, etc. Learn how to filter so that you get the most important information, and the stuff that you don’t care about doesn’t even come your way.
4. You control the pace – Seriously, you do. If an entire river of information is coming your way, you can control the flow. Build a dam, and open and close the sluices until you get a flow that is comfortable for you. No matter how much water is on the other side, a 2-inch pipe will only allow a 2-inch flow of water through. Want more? Increase the size of the pipe. Want less? Make it smaller.
5. There’s nothing wrong with “missing out” on something – This ties back to number 2. If you miss an episode of a television show, it’s really not the end of the world. For the most part, there is very little information out there that is crucial for us to have. Don’t sweat it.
6. You WILL adapt and adjust – The advent of every new technology has brought on these feelings of information overload. Movable type and the printing press spurred on literacy and publishing. A rapid influx of reading material brought on these concerns, as did the invention of both radio and television. But we do OK with those, don’t we? We are amazingly adaptive. We have pretty rapid learning curves. Trust me, you’ll be fine.
Live your life and consume what you want, and don’t worry about missing out on something. I confess that in my early days of my Twitter residency, I wanted to be attached at all times. I didn’t want to miss anything. That’s not realistic. That will wear you down far faster than any sort of information overload.
How do you deal with all of the information that crosses your path? What sorts of filters do you have in place?