I’ve been reading several recent blog posts and tweets — all touching on the idea that Information Overload is an emotional issue. And, of course, we both agree, and we wrote a blog post saying as much last Summer. Since that post was published, we have added many new Bscopes users and blog readers. So, while addressing the ideas raised in these recent posts, I will refer back to our original post.
Digging For Gold
I started digging through these blog posts and through the tweets. In them I find things that I both agree and disagree with, simultaneously (how illogical!) As a result, I became confused. Here… take a look:
The best way to deal with information overload is to realize that it’s an emotional problem. (R.S. Wurman )
— rubir (@rubir) January 29, 2012
Ok. Clearly I agree with the statement. But it’s a tease. It makes me feel better. But it isn’t practical. It isn’t actionable.
Finding An Actionable Nugget
Talk about a meta illustration of the entire overload process… I dug through the entire original article from 1997 by Fast Company writer Mark Fischetti quoting original TED chair Richard Saul Wurman. And there, in the final paragraphs is the real useful wheat. Found inside the haystack (to badly mix a metaphor):
The best way to deal with information overload is to realize that it’s not a mental or a physical problem, it’s an emotional problem. And the only way to overcome it is to “hold on to what really interests you and make connections from there,” says Wurman. “Connecting one interest to the next is how you teach yourself and others.
“It’s worthless to read something you’re not interested in, because you won’t remember it anyway. Nothing occurs during that experience that helps your insight and understanding. Once you realize this, you’ll free yourself from the guilt of not paying attention to most of the news and information that’s out there.”
Fine. Brad is Jewish and Steve is Catholic. So I don’t think either of us is really going to “free ourselves from the guilt”. But, aside from that I now have something that can be turned into practical advice.
The Bscopes methodology is clear. Separate wheat from chaff. Rank. Sort. Label. Read what is hot for you. Ignore what is not.
This leads directly back to why we built Bscopes. To implement exactly such a method. To automate a task that is nearly insurmountable when you try it manually. And to help you focus on your inner Vulcan.
Psychology? How About Terms Like “Empowerment”?
Comforting – Psychology behind digital information overload. Not overwhelmed… part of the revolution! wp.me/p25u9C-nf via @pandodaily — Sandy Glickman (@sandyglickman) January 23, 2012
she points to this Brian Solis blog article:
The challenge lies not in the realization that we are empowered to curate our social streams and relationships, but in the consciousness of what is and what could be. Meaning, that we must first understand that how we’re connecting, consuming, and creating today is either part of the problem or part of the solution. We, and only we, are in control of information overload and everything begins with acceptance. … Information overload is a real phenomenon, but it is I believe, by design. It either works for us or against us and it is our choice as to which way the stream flows.
Brian gets some of it right. He describes the problem and the emotional impact. He describes some folks attempts to treat it like an addiction and go cold turkey. He describes some folks attempts to treat it like a diet. He even regurgitates Clay Shirkey’s “Filter Failure” quote. What Brian doesn’t do is offer any practical advice. He says it is up to us. But he neither tells you how to cope with the emotion nor how to manage the actual information.
If Brian were a psychologist, he’d likely be the kind that tells the addict “you just have to try harder”. Or care less.
He leads you right to the edge. He points the way to the promised land. But people need a map. They need a guide. They need tools.
Begging For A Guide
Look at these tweets:
@anib it is more information overload leading to emotion overload. A week off leads to introspecton. — Yvette Wray (@magependragon) January 23, 2012
Calm down, information overload is a good thing bit.ly/ySCAbT via @simplyzesty #socialmedia #li #yam — Dick Foster (@Dick_Foster) January 22, 2012
More Psychological Cliches
Yvette can only cope by periodic by periodic withdrawal. And Dick’s tweet telling people to calm down points to this article by @laurenfisher. She, like others, deals with emotions, telling everyone to “calm down”. As if just being told to stay calm can stave off the emotions and panic.
And again tries to make information overload into a disease. In this case, calling it “social media fatigue”.
While there may be some evidence to suggest social media fatigue – a result of information overload – is a real thing, these results seem questionable.
Fatigue, of course, leads to burnout. She falls back on the, everyone has been overloaded ever since they invented the printing press cliche. Get over it, she says, You’ll just need to develop better skills. And perhaps loose that appendix and grow a third eye while you are at it:
The problem is in the very term ‘overload’. It is not overload of information at all, but simply more information circulating around that we have to navigate through. And with this comes a new set of skills that we are increasingly adept at developing. Of course, more information is going to lead to more material for us to sift through, which can seem an arduous task. But these are the skills of modern society that are increasingly required to succeed. It’s not so much about what knowledge you happen to contain in your head, but how quickly you can sift through and navigate to that information that you need. Information overload is not new and it is not bad. It is a necessary condition of the advancement of society and equal access to knowledge.
As if “more information” and “overload of information” weren’t obviously two connected points on a continuum.
Worst of all, she doesn’t actually tell you how to quickly sift and navigate. She says it’s an essential skill of modern society. Did I miss where they taught it in High School or College?
She doesn’t offer any tools. She hasn’t built any, nor does she have some you could buy or rent. It’s as if our ancestors had determined that they needed to farm more and more land to survive, but no one had built a plow and no one was talking about hooking up oxen.
Now I Need A Break
And I’m not alone here…
The problem with information overload is not that there’s so much to know. It’s that there’s so much more that I think I *should* know… — Melonie Fullick (@qui_oui) January 20, 2012
@hoodiesnheels @iamproverbs @HeatherLLove whoa whoa information overload LOL okay *breathe* lol
— Jenelle Thompson (@jenellethemodel) January 23, 2012
Clearly @qui_oui and @jenellethemodel are feeling stressed. Having an emotional response to this illogical problem. In fact, in a Digital Brand Marketing blog post, Bill Corbett Jr. is writing about the stress caused by Information Overload:
Information overload is a form of stress.
That Tweet dream Sunday I reached the breaking point where I needed to make a commitment to myself and my family. I suggest you consider making this same commitment to yourself and your family – disconnect and go off the grid. For many this will be very difficult to do. For me, after my recent “Tweet dream” I am making the commitment to go off the grid not just once but periodically.
I can report that I am slowly attacking my “addiction” to being connected. I have been able to take several full days off the grid and I am looking for a vacation spot where I will have no option.
Bill can do nothing but try and do a cold-turkey detox. Incredibly radical. Others have written about declaring RSS bankruptcy.
He isn’t dealing with or mastering the emotion. Working through it. There’s no solutions. No tools. None of them are dealing with it. And taking a vacation and thinking the problem will not be there when you get back. Well, that’s Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
These Folks Need a Guru
Someone to tell the to breathe. To take a vacation. But more than that. Someone to help them live day in and day out and cope with their overload.
But now I feel the need to warn them, warn all of you. That as in many industries, there are a lot of people out there peddling an answer. Some are legitimate. But others… well, they are somewhere between consultants, doctors and snake-oil peddlers of old.
I’m going to need to write another blog post just to try and separate out the characteristics of the ones that can help from the ones that only want to sell you something.
What To Do
Be logical. No one, not even Bscopes, has a magic bullet. But you can look for tools to empower you. To make you more able to find what you love or need and ignore the rest. And when you find those tools, share them with the rest of the world.