Between email, social media, podcasts, Youtube videos, a 24-7 news cycle, and articles like this one, society as a whole is suffering from an information overload epidemic.
Too much information threatens our mental health, from the persistent frustration of interrupting emails to the clinical anxiety born from an overload of shopping choices. Too much information endangers the participation required for a functioning democracy; people are inundated with so much content, good and bad, that it’s hard to separate the signal from the noise. – Leidy Klotz
Even worse, information overload makes us stupid, unproductive, poor, and miserable.
Why Information Overload Makes Us Stupid
Information overload makes us less open-minded, perpetuates confirmation bias, and makes us stupid. As the comedian Ronny Cheng jokingly said in his standup comedy special, “who knew that having access to all human knowledge would make us so stupid?”
Myopic Consumption Habits
The paradox of information diversity is how myopic it’s made our consumption habits. Myopic consumption is an occupational hazard for online marketers, self-help junkies, people who watch political news, and anyone who wants to build an audience for their work.
- People who read self-help books keep reading self-help books
- Whether they watch Fox News or CNN, the news they consume becomes the filter through which people see the world.
These consumption habits cause people to draw wildly inaccurate conclusions about the world, themselves, and society at large.
Myopic consumption habits create what Eli Pariser calls filter bubbles. When you attend elite universities, live in places like San Francisco, read magazines like Wired, visit websites like Medium, or even listen to podcasts like mine, you see life in America through the lens of a filter bubble of privilege.
But drive down mains street in a small town in the middle of America, and you’ll see a different country. We don’t see life through the lens of a mother who works three jobs to put food on the table and a roof over her kid’s head. Arguably, she’s more influential than any of us will ever be.
Filter bubbles distort our perceptions of reality, reduce self-awareness and decrease empathy.
A bold and compelling point of view is essential for any artist who wants to build an audience in the creator economy. But that’s damn near impossible when myopic consumption habits trap you inside echo chambers.
If you read the same books, listen to the same podcasts, and visit the same websites as everyone in your industry, at best, you’ll become a pale imitation of your predecessors.
In our interview on the Unmistakable Creative Podcast, author John Petrocelli said, “We pay attention to information that confirms our ideas about the world. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us feel like we are right. And anything that contradicts that, we completely ignore.”
- Algorithms determine the content that rolls through our social feed and reinforces our existing beliefs by feeding us more of the same.
- You become closed-minded when you only surround yourself with people who share your existing beliefs.
- Without a diversity of perspectives, it’s almost impossible to see the world as it is.
Information overload enhances confirmation bias, makes people ignorant, polarizes us, and makes society more dangerous. We all end up in twisted versions of the Truman show.
Why Information Overload Kills Productivity
Billions of people waste countless hours scrolling through newsfeeds, clicking links on social media, and checking email multiple times a day. But nobody has ever changed the world by checking and responding to email.
Time is a Limited Non-Renewable Resource
All you have each year is 8760 hours. The time you spent reading this article is time you can never get back. If the time you’re spending reading this article isn’t adding value to your, stop reading it. Spend your precious time doing something that does.
The more time you spend consuming content that’s irrelevant to your life, the less you have for people and pursuits that matter most to you.
External Demands Determine Our Priorities
When you click every link, open every email you receive, and glance at your phone every time you see a notification, other people’s priorities dictate your behavior. You spend your time, attention, and energy on what matters to someone else instead of what matters to you.
Excessive Consumption Kills Creativity
When you’re drowning in a sea of podcasts, newsletters, blog posts, and youtube videos, you perpetuate information overload and get less value from the content you consume. And it kills your ability to be creative when you don’t give yourself the time and space to reflect on the content you consume.
Information Overload Decreases Your Attention Span
The more you cave into sources of distraction, the more prone you become to Midtask Context Switching.
Every mid-task context switch creates attention residue. When you shift your attention back to the original task, you’re still thinking about the previous one. Eventually, your distractions become your default.
Why Information Overload Makes Us Poor and Miserable
People on social media present an overwhelmingly positive image of their lives which blinds us to the distinction between the lives they project and the ones they lead. We lose sight of what matters to us when the highlights of other people’s lives dominate ours. The highlight reels of other people’s lives fuel a never-ending sense of envy and comparison.
Excessive Social Media Use Reduces Our Self Awareness and traps us in a 24-7 reality show of meaningless bullshit. As author Will Storr says, we become self-obsessed with no idea what it’s doing to us.
Information Overload Makes Us Poor
Because of variable rewards, our news feeds and inboxes are like slot machines. The possibility that we might “win” or discover something useful keeps us scrolling, clicking, and tweeting. But if there’s anything we know about slot machines, it’s that Vegas wasn’t built on winners. The house always wins.
On platforms like Facebook, Zuckerberg always wins. For every second you spend on Facebook, that’s one more second of your precious life he can sell to advertisers that make him rich and you poor.
How to Reduce Information Overload
There are three steps to reducing information overload
- Input Reduction
- Deliberate Consumption
These three steps will not only help you reduce information overload. You’ll get more value from the content you consume.
Become Aware of Your Consumption Habits
The Internet promotes compulsive overconsumption because there’s an infinite supply of content. Just look down at your phone or open another browser tab. Your next “fix” is one click away.
Most people struggle to remember what they’ve read in the past 24 hours. Content consumption is at an all-time high, while retention is gradually declining. Unless you’re aware of what you consume, mindless clicking and scrolling are inevitable.
- Tools like Averpoint help you become aware of your consumption habits, measure your reading habits and become more intentional about what you consume.
- Apps like Centered help you stay focused and mono-task
- Note-taking tools like Mem help you use one tool to do most of your work.
The more intentional you are about your consumption habits, the less overwhelmed information overload will be.
Reduce Your Inputs
One of the easiest ways to increase your attention span is to decrease its competition.
- Podcasts you haven’t listened to in months
- Newsletters you never open or read
- Apps, Products, and Services you never use
Consolidate notes, tasks, ideas, and everything that matters into one or two tools. Quit social media altogether or limit yourself to one or two social platforms. And take what Cal Newport calls craftsmen approach to tool selection.
Replace digital with analog: Plan your days in a bullet journal instead of a Google calendar. Read physical books instead of reading them on an electronic reading device. Analog tools are distraction-free by default.
When you reduce your inputs and consolidate your tools, you’ll decrease digital overwhelm, increase your productivity and Maximize Your Output.
Be Deliberate About Your Consumption Habits
When I interviewed Julien Smith, two things about his consumption habits stood out.
- He didn’t read blogs,
- He only read books that most people weren’t reading
Ironically, he had one of the most popular blogs on the internet and published multiple best-selling books.
The more deliberate you become about your consumption habits, the more capable you’ll become of transforming knowledge into wisdom.
Information overload is a bit like smoking. One cigarette won’t kill you today. Eventually, the delayed consequences of your habits catch up to you.
Do you feel overwhelmed, unproductive, and distracted?
In our interconnected digital world, managing your data can be a daunting task. But this free 3-part video series will show you how to organize your digital life so you can make the most of your creativity. Learn how to access and connect your knowledge, create new ideas and projects, and move them forward with ease. Sign up today!