Information Overload

Being out of work for over a week – what with the snowpocalypse/Hothlanta going on and me up in Michigan for my grandfather’s funeral – was really quite freeing. Nothing will remove you from the humdrum doldrums of your everyday life and routines quite like the twin maelstroms of the death of a family member and being over 700 miles away from your immediate family (Jenn & the kids) to attend the funeral while Atlanta was snowed/iced in.

The best thing to come of all this: I unplugged for over a week.

To be clear, I still did all of the following things:

  • Talked to/texted my wife and kids several times a day to make sure they were safe & sound.
  • Read books on my Nook.
  • Checked my email to make sure folks had gotten my out-of-office message about the snow & the funeral.

I was away from a computer or DVR of any kind.
Most of my time was spent in the company of family and friends in preparation for the funeral.
I didn’t have time to waste my time (though I had plenty of time to waste) but I chose to fill it with their company, compassion and kindness.

All of this sharing could be considered too much information – the fact that I’m sharing it with anyone on the internet – but I’m thinking about another kind of information overload: the fact that we allow ourselves to be inundated with information in the form of tweets, emails, apps, TV shows and the never-ending stream of consciousness that is Facebook.

So while I wasn’t completely unplugged, I was conscious of my connectivity.
I was aware.
I was present.

As anyone who has spent time a person who is multi-tasking on their phone or doing anything else while distracted will tell you, trying to do two things at once (even walking and chewing gum) can be a real chore. It’s especially frustrating if you’re spending time with loved ones but secretly in another time/place/world via the magic of the internet.

This is not cool.

I break this rule more often than I’d like to admit, which is why we have a “No phone at the dinner table” rule which I’ve gotten better about breaking. Same thing applies for meals and TV viewing; easy to do at home, harder to do at our local Mexican joint.

But information overload (and distraction) aren’t new concepts. Folks have been complaining about too much to do/see/hear/read since Gutenberg:

Many feel the situation has reached crisis proportions. In the academic world, critics have begun to argue that universities are producing and distributing more knowledge than we can actually use. In the recent best-selling book “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr worries that the flood of digital information is changing not only our habits, but even our mental capacities: Forced to scan and skim to keep up, we are losing our abilities to pay sustained attention, reflect deeply, or remember what we’ve learned.

Beneath all this concern lies the sense that humanity is experiencing an unprecedented change — that modern technology is creating a problem that our culture and even our brains are ill equipped to handle. We stand on the brink of a future that no one can ever have experienced before.

But is it really so novel? Human history is a long process of accumulating information, especially once writing made it possible to record texts and preserve them beyond the capacity of our memories. And if we look closely, we can find a striking parallel to our own time: what Western Europe experienced in the wake of Gutenberg’s invention of printing in the 15th century, when thousands upon thousands of books began flooding the market, generating millions of copies for sale. The literate classes experienced exactly the kind of overload we feel today — suddenly, there were far more books than any single person could master, and no end in sight. Scholars, at first delighted with the new access to information, began to despair. “Is there anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books?” asked Erasmus, the great humanist of the early 16th century.

Read the whole thing (if you’ve got the time and you’re not in the presence of someone else whose company is more interesting or important to you). ;-)

I’m making it my ongoing goal to be more present, more in-the-moment, more focused in regards to my time. I’m trying to make every decision concerning how I spend my “free” time and where I place my attention absolutely purposeful and not haphazard.

I want to take control of what is, ultimately, my own experience. I’m choosing choice.

Having said that here are a few ways I’d like to spend my time:

  • Organizing my T-shirts
  • Because nothing says attentiveness and purpose like organizing your closet (and hopefully donating/doing some early Spring cleaning).

  • Downtime. Actual, Real, Restful Downtime.
  • I have projects. I need energy, space, time and, most importantly, downtime to make them a reality. Watch this space: blogging is one of those projects.

Until next time!

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