[Article first published on Technorati http://technorati.com/technology/article/the-digital-information-buffet/]
The concept of too much information still seems odd to our ears. Communication technologies (from smoke signals, to post, then telegraph and telephone) have evolved slowly over time and enabled humans to develop and sustain culture, create social ties, and distribute knowledge.
However before the digital age, people were able to examine and consider information more quickly that they were able to create and circulate it. The digital age has dramatically altered this production/consumption ratio and has done it in a radically fast way.
The new technologies allow not only fast production but especially instant distribution of information: this leave us with permanent processing deficit although most of us, in the digital age, handle nothing else but information for a living. We create it, process it and consume it, and feel overwhelmed most of the time.
You can view information as being similar to food. You need information for your mental development, just as you need food for your body. A good diet however includes digestible portions from several food groups. Likewise with information, you need useful, good quality portions. Especially, you need to know how to exercise discretion in deciding which information you ingest.
The incessant flow of data stimuli we live in at the moment however is like a constantly replenishing, colorful food buffet where junk food is mixed with good home-made food and haute cuisine.
It is difficult to make choices when faced with this abundance, our senses are captivated every moment. Most of us have learned to make tough choices in front of a food buffet, but have not yet taken the power to do the same in front of the information buffet.
We often do the opposite, ingesting information constantly to the point of choking on it. We all do it – corporate executives and professionals, social web networkers, and lazy couch tubers.
An epic buffet orgy may be fun, occasionally, but it poses a serious threat to our health when it is continuous and uncontrollable. The constant flow of data to which we are constantly exposed carries a cost, both physically and mentally. Personally, when I do not put a limit to data flow, my memory and short attention spans shrink. I feel scattered and tired, despite regular exercise, and keep processing the day’s information load throughout the night.
Also, memory is stored according to specific cues, contexts within which the information is experienced. When the context begins to vanish in a sea of data, it becomes more difficult to remember any single piece of it. At this point, the information you process no longer makes any sense and does not add anything to your life.
Information overload is just as likely to create mental confusion as it is to create impaired judgments based on an attempt to shut down data gathering, and an unkindness to others, a brusque way of relating to each other due to being distracted or in an attempt to limit interaction.
So what is the solution to information overload?
It is very simple, although not always easy to do as it requires a serious degree of discipline.
You need to become aware of your information processing patterns and make a conscious choice to take control of the information you process and respond to, just like you do with our diet, just like you do when we select a movie to see at the cinema.