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  • 24 February 2012 15:52

The Information Diet

Blog Post from Mindjet

Today, we’re facing more information than ever before and we’re consuming more of it than ever too. (According to the NY Times, the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of information a day!) Yet despite this abundance of information, today’s employees are no more productive than their 20th century counterparts.

For those of you who unfamiliar with the idea of information overload, it was coined by the futurist Alvin Toffler in his bestselling 1970 book Future Shock. According to Wikipedia, information overload “refers to the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information”. Today, information overload has become a hotly contested topic. Employees are consuming more information than ever before, resulting in a crippling of decision making and more importantly costing companies in the US $650 billion dollars a year. We’re losing what Edward de Bono refers to as our creative pause: “a deliberate, self-imposed pause to consider alternative solutions to a problem – even when things are going perfectly fine and it’s not only costing corporations billions but also it’s costing us our health.

In a post by Scott Belsky on the blog, the 99 Percent, he reflects on how loosing these creative pauses are harming us. He heralds that these pauses are “the seed of the break-through ‘a-ha!’ moments that people so frequently report…In these moments, you are completely isolated, and your mind is able to wander and churn big questions without interruption.” However, in today’s fast-paced, always connected society, we’re quickly loosing these breaks where we’re isolated and able to think about these larger issues.

In a recent book by Guus Pijpers, he highlights that people are actually getting “sick” from information overload. As we’ve become more and more accustomed to technology and the vast amounts of information they can supply us, Pijpers claims that people are getting “sick” trying to get their brains to absorb all that’s being offered on the Internet via their Smartphones – and simply can’t handle it all.

Still not convinced that this is a problem? Try giving yourself an info detox. Studies show that when people try to cut back on their information consumption via smartphones their withdrawal symptoms are very similar to those of drug addicts. The study published by the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change found that one in five reported feelings of withdrawal akin to addiction while more than one in 10 admitted being left confused and feeling like a failure. When questioned about the experiment, one test subject stated that they “became bulimic with my media; I starved myself for a full 15 hours and then had a full-on binge”

How do we help stop info overload?

Conventional thinking would have us believe that the volume of information is the root of the problem. Simply stated, we’re producing too much of it and this is why so many of us suffer from information overload.

However, Clay Johnson has a different opinion. In his book, The Information Diet, he discusses how we spend on average eleven hours a day consuming information – and for some of us much more. Johnson argues that it’s not the volume of information that’s creating a problem, but rather it’s in our consumption habits. He compares this phonemon to food. America is facing a growing obesity problem, however we don’t blame the food for making us fat – we all know the culprit is our eating habits. He takes this analogy and applies it to the growing concerns of information overload.

In a recent article by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, she points out the increase of the phrase “information overload” being mentioned in print using Google’s n-gram viewer.

According to the search, we can see that over the last 150 years the term “information overload” become popular in the 1960s, increasing by 50% by 1980 and then again in 2000. Given that by 2000 we started seeing really the power of the internet, and it’s ability to easily grant access to information, its no surprise that we started talking about information overload.

How do we cope with information overload? Ready to tackle information overload, but unsure how? Johnson offers up some excellent suggestions. I’ve pulled out five high level steps, so listen up.

Step One – Measurement. Like most things it’s always a good idea to get a baseline before your start changing your habits. Start to try and get an idea of how much you’re consuming. When doing this Johnson advises counting the stuff that requires effort for you to consume – “anything that involves a power button, page, switch, tap or click”. He also suggests starting a media journal to give you a hand.

Step Two – Cut out cable TV. Trying to go on an information diet with TV is “like trying to go on a diet while subscribing to a daily fried chicken and ice cream delivery service”, says Johnson. Cutting out cable does two things: reduces your exposure to advertising, and reduces your ability to “couch surf”. Plus, it’s a ton cheaper! Just think of all the dollars you’ll save by watching your TV through NetFlix, Hulu, and Amazon.

Step Three – Adjust your consumption habits. Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. I’m sure you’ve heard the slogan “Eat Local” before, the same applies to media consumption. Start with things that are the most local to you: family and friends, then local and professional communities, then international, you get the idea.

Step Four – Fix your computer. Try to eliminate anything with a number associated with it. Your inbox unopened number, notifications from Google +, desktop notification pop-ups – get rid of them…all. It’s about ending the battle for your attention on your computer. Need some help getting this done? Well, Johnson offers a list of tools, tips and resources to help you out.

Step Five – Don’t consume information that would be unrecognizable to your grandparents. Try and avoid highly processed stuff and go straight to the source. Avoid news articles that don’t empower readers or views with source materials and see out those materials yourself.

I hope these suggestions help you with your information diet goals.

***Orignally published on Mindjet's blog Conspire***

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