Not a week goes by when I don’t see someone posting on Facebook about information overload and about their desire to take a break from social media. Perhaps they feel overwhelmed, while others are facing down what they call their own addiction to social media. Sometimes they take a break, sometimes they don’t.
Yes, there is a lot of information out there, and with the internet, there is a fear that it can come rushing down over us and crush us.
But only if you let it. Only if you give into an irrational fear of technology.
Think of it this way: there is an entire lake (or ocean) of information out there. Old information, new information. News stories of global importance, and news stories of more hyper-local importance. Sports, entertainment, science, math, literature, and musings. Lots and lots of musings and opinion.
That information has always been there, at least in part, but it has been filtered and kept from us based on the availability, or lack of availability, of technology. Even with the internet, those filters are still in place, but in a far more readily available form.
The ocean of information does not, and cannot, come crashing down on us, because of the dam of the internet and social media. It’s a wall that holds all of that back.
I believe that some of us fear that we’ll be inundated the moment we turn on our computers. But the dam, or series of dams, holds it back.
And we’re in control of the flow of information. We have the spigot at our fingertips to control how little or how much we get.
You have the choice as to whether or not to turn on your computer. You control which social platforms you use and frequent. And on each platform, you can not only control which individuals, businesses, and news sources you connect with, you can control how much of them you see. You can even control your various privacy settings. You can get as little or as much information as you want.
In your own home, you have the ability to turn on a spigot and get water when you need it. You don’t need to walk ten miles each way to get a limited amount of water like some in third world countries. You can control the temperature of the water and how fast it comes out.
But in the end, you are the one that is in control.
I saw two things in my Facebook feed that brought this fact home to me in a very real way. First my friend Andi posted the following:
This is why I love social media and information “overload.” This is a story I might have missed. But Smithsonian reported on it, Andi shared, and I, along with many of Andi’s other friends, was able to see it.
As Andi says, she doesn’t know what to do about it. It’s not our job to hop on a plane and go look for these girls, but in a world where so many important stories go unreported, awareness is key. We need to be aware of what is going on in the world, if only for the sake of being better educated. Plus, we have the ability to share, and perhaps act. It might involve giving money, or contacting government officials.
But awareness, in and of itself, is a big part of the battle. Any battle.
So many stories like this pass our eyes on any given day, in what seems a deluge, and while I often echo Andi’s feelings of a helplessness to do anything to fix things, I appreciate that she has shared this in that way. Maybe Andi and I can’t do anything to fix it, but we can share and make others aware. There is power in knowledge, particularly shared knowledge. You never know when someone in your friends list might be the one who can donate, take action, or even be the link who can share to someone else who does have the power to act.
On the other end of the spectrum, another of my friends shared a 2006 quote from Harper Lee, which was part of a letter she wrote to Oprah Winfrey on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of her classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In the quote, Lee expresses some hesitations toward technology and the availability of information:
“Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it. And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.”
Interestingly enough, as I write this, news has just come across my Facebook news feed that Lee has just begrudgingly given her consent to have her classic book released in digital form for the first time ever.
While I don’t embrace technology unwittingly, I’m also not a technophobe. I appreciate the idea behind Lee’s quote, and the spirit of what she is trying to say, even if I think she is making unnecessary leaps of judgement. I, too, appreciate books in their hard form, but just because a technology is new, doesn’t make it bad or wrong. It just makes it different.
Different is not bad. Different is merely that: different. We adapt. We adjust. Our brains make it work.
Sure, some people might become easily overwhelmed by what they perceive as an onslaught of information, but that threshold is different for everyone. I know people who get paralyzed by receiving three emails in one day, while others can handle dozens per hour. What might be an information deluge for one, might be a trickle for someone else.
The point is, there is only an information overload if we permit it. We are at the controls. We have the ability to open and close the spigots as far as we want, and as often as we want. We can apply active filters to the already strong passive filters we have naturally developed over time.
Let’s not blame the internet, social media, or any other technology for destroying the good ol’ days. Let’s not blame them for making us stupid, lazy, or incompetent. It can only do those things if allow them to happen, and give these technologies control over us.
Don’t be intimidated by the flow of information. Instead, embrace it. Control it. Use it to your advantage.
And use the information that crosses your path online for good. If you see something that moves you, share it. If you find ways you can act, either by donating or passing it along to others, do so. Your newsfeeds can be a great source of important information. You just need to learn how to process that information.
What are your feelings on the idea of information overload? How do you try to control it?