Digital Age Information Overload

As I become older, I grow more and more certain that most people are idiots. Especially the smart, ambitious, driven and successful ones – they tend to be the biggest idiots of them all. Every day I get to watch them struggle with problems they have invented for themselves to the point of completely wrecking their minds and burning out. Which would make me rather concerned if these so called problems were actually real.

Let me give you an example: a lot of smart people on the internet talk about information overload. There is this notion that we are currently “bombarded” with information at a rate that his beyond our capacity to process it. Yes, bombarded tends to be the term that is used to describe the phenomenon. As in shelled with explosive artillery ordnance. As if the information was somehow forced upon you. They make it as if you actually had to actively dodge the internet or something.

Please tell me when was the last time you woke up only to find Mark Zuckerberg hovering over your bed waiting to stuff a big information hose down your throat and start pumping your Facebook feed directly into your stomach the second you open your eyes? When was the last time Larry Page and Sergey Brin loaded all your emails into a big trebuchet and launched them directly at your face? When was the last time you had to leap out of the way to dodge a massive reddit info dump?

Information overload my ass. Lets face it, our current input and output methods really suck in terms of bandwidth. There is no such thing as information torrent. There is no bombardment here. We consume the internet via tiny screens controlled via keyboards or touch. It is a serial pipe that can only deliver one narrow bandwidth stream into your brain by the way of your eyes and maybe also ears. I don’t know about you, but I cant really consume more than one information source at a time – at least not when I want to mainline it for high retention.

The internet might be an digital ocean of information but the only way of consuming it that we have right now is sucking at it with a silly straw, one gulp of data at a time. That’s is all we are physically capable of, both in terms of our technology and our biological capacity to intake information. By necessity it is an active process. This wealth of information streams we are supposedly accosted with do not actually exist in the space we physically inhabit. The information does not float around in the air, forcing itself upon you through your pores. To access it you need an electronic device of some sort: a phone or a computer. Having said device in your pocket however is not enough to get information. You actually have activate it and operate it with your hands (or voice) and read (or listen) to the information it streams. In other words, you actually have to work to get the information out of the damn device.

Information Overload

Mitch Kapor seems to have a way better internet connection than me.

Which is precisely why I can’t understand the problem people have with this so called “information overload”. Almost every day I hear someone talking about deleting their Facebook or quitting Twitter. There is a bullshit buzzword going around now called “Inbox Zero” or something like that. To me this is beyond stupid. I’ve been using email, social media for years now – I’ve been on these things longer than most people were even aware of them. I was on Facebook back when it still required a .edu address from a participating university. I’ve been on twitter back when it was just us nerds tweeing about programming from fucking flip phones. Currently I follow close to 500 people on Twitter and I still don’t have any issues with information overload. Do you know why?

Because I don’t give a fuck.

You see, I have developed this wonderful system for managing my social media and information sources. Whenever I feel like tweeting, I tweet. Whenever I want to read some tweets, I pull up my stream, and flick my mouse wheel (or phone screen) for a bit to scroll a screen-full or few down, scanning the page for funny and/or interesting stuff. I hit a star here, re-tweet button there then I put it down and do something else. Same applies to Facebook, Reddit and just about everything else. Some days I don’t do any of that at all because I’m busy, preoccupied of just don’t feel like it.

Which is not to say I don’t like these services. I love them. I think what they provide has a lot value. I like to be plugged in. I’m an infovore. I thrive on a steady information diet. I just don’t understand how social networks could possibly overwhelm or burn you out to the point where you don’t want to use them anymore.

I mean, if your information intake is overwhelming you then why on earth do you keep trying to suck an ocean via a silly straw? That’s just beyond idiotic. If something you’re doing for fun is not enjoyable anymore, then don’t fucking do it. If you run out of fucks to give, stop giving a fuck. It is as simple as that. If you are overwhelmed by the torrent of information you are exposed to, I have news for you: it’s your own damn fault. It’s not the social media. It’s not the internet. It’s not the 24 hour news cycle. It’s not streams, feeds and youtube playlists. It is you being an idiot. Put the fucking straw down and stop sucking before you hurt yourself.

I guess some people have issues filtering their information sources, but same advice applies here too: don’t give a fuck. It is the ultimate filter really. Unless you are looking for something specific in which case you simply need to right set of keywords, and zero fucks to give about non-relevant information. Sure, it is easy to spend a whole day binging on Wikipedia or TV-Tropes but once again, it is not like those sites are forcibly pushing the information into your eyeballs. If you spend hours aimlessly surfing and procrastinating instead of getting shit done, it is your own damn fault. I really wish the internet was a hydrant that blows information into your face at gale speed and you can just sit there and absorb but it does not work that way. You have to work that silly straw and suck hard on it to get any data out of your LCD screen and into your brain. Your problem is poor aim and lack of focus.

If you are in your teens or early twenties and you have this problem, I have only one thing to say to you: what the fuck is wrong with you? You were born into this world! You don’t even fucking know life without the internet. Older people at least have an excuse because they didn’t have it when they were young. Their generation was taught that once they get a degree or two they will never have to learn anything new again, ever. So they are kinda hoping they can die (or at least retire) before computer illiteracy becomes a crippling disability. But you have no excuses. This is your turf, your world and your universe. You should be running laps around me, and the fact that you are not makes me seriously concerned for the future of humanity. You are like a fish that can’t swim and that’s actually kinda pathetic. Fix your self!

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11 Responses to Digital Age Information Overload

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m sure you know the experience of reading the front half of an article, then having your “but what about X” thought be the second half of that same article.

    People burn out when they feel compelled to keep up with All The News, and their silly straw can’t keep up. Solution, stop giving so many fucks.

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  2. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    The problem old people have with the Internet (and I say this as someone who is several hundred years old) (subjectively; actual years may vary) is that they grew up in an environment of information scarcity, and difficult and expensive communications. You’re talking about people who had to use special tricks to communicate long distance, like person A making a collect call to person B, and person B refusing to accept the charges, the point of which was to give person B the message that person A had arrived home safely or some such code. An actual phone call was too expensive. You’re talking about people who would have to wait for wood pulp to be mashed into sheets and printed with ink, rolled up into bundles, and then thrown onto their porch by some kid on a bike, so that they could read about what happened yesterday. If they missed an episode of their favorite TV show, they would very likely _never have another chance_ to see it. It was gone forever. We’re talking about a world where contacting people with zeros in their phone number took more time and physical effort than contacting people with a lot of 1’s. (Rotary dials, kids; look it up.)

    Having grown up in this sort of environment, adapting to the instant availability of all the news in the world, as it happens, and the ability to watch endless entertainment, at any time, and communicate with nearly anyone, nearly anywhere, takes a lot of getting used to.

    You kids who grew up swimming in the information sea, though, shouldn’t have so much trouble. Luke, you’re quite right about that. The solution is to unfuck yourself and stop giving a shit.

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  3. FX FRANCE Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    There’s a whole “I’m in the tech business but oh, noes, I don’t like it that much, you understand” mentality floating around. From journalists being so proud that they’ve quit using their iPhone for a month to the recent Facebook bashing trend — at least in some circles — it’s seemingly a very fashionable thing to an anti-tech techie. In the end, it’s all about appearances to me.

    They’re right on one count though, it can be pretty hard for some to balance their personal life correctly, and to know when to stop browsing Tumblr when they’re hanging out with other people, because that’s fucking impolite.

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  4. Mrjones2015 GERMANY Safari Mac OS says:

    Maybe the purpose of the term “bombardment” was not to imply that information is forced into users, but users accepting to be “bombarded” with so much quick and useless information (“for teh lulz”) that they are rather a way of entertainment than of gaining any knowledge.
    I assume people want their life to be as extreme as a michael bay movie, because nowadays almost everybody finds it impossible to do nothing. There are no more waiting times (for the bus, in a line in the supermarket, coffee break), there are only small gaps that urgently need to be filled with facebook and twitter feeds.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Matt`:

    Yup exactly. You may think you need to absorb everything in your “feed” but the truth is that if you don’t keep up nothing bad ever happens. The really good stuff will be re-posted on the front page of reddit till the heat death of the universe, and you can actually catch up on Facebook gossip the old fashioned way via the grapevine. The other stuff doesn’t really matter. :)

    @ Robert:

    Btw, I grew up in a pure analog environment. The first apartment complex we lived in did not have a land-line hookup curtsey of fucked up post-soviet bureaucracy. It took them like a decade to actually drag copper wire to our building so before that if I wanted to call my grandmother I had to run down the block and use a phone booth.

    There was an old phone booth with a dilapidated rotary phone right outside our school. Kids would learn to solder phreaking kits in the shop so that they could make free long distance calls.

    Hell, I didn’t even get on the internet till I was like a junior in HS, and didn’t have broadband till I went to college. So I am by no means a digital native. But I have learned to manage pretty well. :)

    @ FX:

    That is a very good observation. That’s exactly what goes through my head when I hear another person bragging about how they quit Facebook. Well, whooptie do – why was this an issue for you anyway? I’m beginning to suspect it is an image thing like you said. Just like people who brag about not having a TV in their house. Like this was some kind of an achievement. I mean, I totally agree that most of the crap on TV is crappy and not worth wasting my time on, but I still have a TV so that I can comfortably watch the shows and/or movies I do enjoy.

    @ Mrjones2015:

    I don’t know – for me there are still plenty of waiting times: doctors office, dentist office, DMV, etc… Also traffic. I kinda want Google Glasses just so I can browse the web while I’m stuck in traffic during the morning commute… Actually, on second thought maybe not – that sounds way dangerous.

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  6. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    Luke, I wouldn’t say that digital immigrants _can’t_ learn to control the inherent human desire for more information; it’s just harder, and up to a point the older the immigrant the harder it is. (The very old, who never fully grasp the Internet and computers, don’t have this information addiction problem.) You were, after all, still a young lad when you immigrated to digital land. Imagine how different it would have been if you’d been 15 or 20 years older.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Robert:

    Well, I choose to believe it would be just as easy, because the alternative is just too frightening for me to fathom. It would mean that one day in the near future I too will be left behind, faced with some new technology that I can’t fully grok. I desperately do not want to be the old guy who has to call a 12 year old kid to help him push the reset button or some future device (or something equally embarrassing). So I hope that the ability to learn and adjust your lifestyle does not magically switch off after you reach a certain age and that it is just a matter of attitude and effort.

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  8. Mike Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    You get little information, and it’s fine.
    You get more, it’s kinda awesome, you want more.
    You get much more, you want even more-more-more, until it indeed conditions you to some kind of failure.

    It looks like yet-another infinitely self-reinforcing habit (aka addiction) to me, so while the “stop it” advice is indeed correct, I don’t think it’s as easy as that for these who have it worst.
    Some (I think I heard either “third” or “most”, not very reliable data) people can quit smoking by just going cold-turkey, I suppose some can give up this addiction in the same fashion.

    For a safer way out, imho, step one is to indeed read this post and especially “I mean, if your information intake is overwhelming you…” logical-contradicton argument and recognize the real problem, but step two might be something like “find medium you tend to ignore easily” (irc, for me), “pipe others into that one” (e.g. rss-to-irc, reddit-to-irc, twittter-to-irc, im-to-irc, …) – your brain, conditioned to treat thing as discardable, along with some will not to reprogram it (knowing the problem), will do the rest.

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  9. Lopez UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Saying that the solution to information overload is to not be as curious is the same as say that the solution to overeating is to not be as hungry.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Mike:

    Well, maybe I just don’t have an addictive personality. I feel that you can totally be connected and plugged in without it every feeling overwhelming.

    @ Lopez:

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that solution to overeating is to develop healthy eating habits: eat regularly in smaller portions. Eat when you’re hungry not when you’re bored or anxious. Eat until you are no longer hungry, not until you are so full can’t fathom taking another bite. I think this philosophy translates pretty directly to information intake:

    The solution to information overload is not to starve yourself off social media but to use them responsibly and in moderation.

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  11. Tim UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I just wanted to point out that my understanding of Inbox Zero fits pretty well with your “If I want the information I get it, if I don’t, I don’t” approach. Proper use of Inbox Zero is to DO something with stuff in your e-mail inbox. If you can respond to an e-mail, or add something from an e-mail to your schedule you do it right away and delete/archive the e-mail as dealt with. The idea is that when you open your e-mail you do it when you have time to make a little progress, and you don’t have to wade through irrelevant stuff. I’m sure you could apply the philosophy to other media that let you remove ‘done’ things from view.

    I agree though that “Information Overload” is largely self induced. When I feel that way it’s because I feel like I’m going to miss out on something. For example I’ve been binge reading this blog for a couple days now in my free time, but when I’ve had enough of you for a bit I just open another tab to something else. Yay tabs.

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