Everyone talks about “information overload” as though it’s an unavoidable problem of our modern society. Too much information is out there and it’s coming at us faster than we can digest it. Few people ask: how much of that information is meaningful to me, and how can I filter out the stuff I don’t find useful?
Clay Shirky astutely points out that what have have isn’t “information overload,” but rather “filter failure.” We’ve had more information being produced than any one human could consume in a lifetime for centuries. So, the question isn’t “how much information is out there?” but instead: how much of it do we want (or need) to consume?
If you don’t want meaningless information to cloud your life then learn how to filter. Start by examining all of the information sources you access (e.g. TV, radio, print media, Internet etc.). Which programs and information sources are you accessing out of mindless habit? Which ones are delivering interesting and useful information that you tend to act on?
Next time you watch a local TV news broadcast and they’re blabbering about some misfortune that happened to someone who lives across town that you don’t know, ask yourself: is this information actionable? That is, how will it help you in a specific way?
The answer is it probably won’t. Most news is really just mindless gossip. And the weird thing is many of us pay attention to this gossip even though we don’t know the people involved. It’s like that experiment where they put soap operas on a TV in a cage full of monkeys and guess what? Yeah, the monkeys started watching the soap operas.
Do monkeys need to watch soap operas about another species? Is this relevant to their lives? Will it help them forage for food? No, but if you are stuck in a cage and bored you’ll watch anything.
You’re probably not stuck in a cage, and yet you might be letting a lot of useless information into your life. If so, then don’t complain that you are suffering from information overload. Filter out the useless junk. You’d be surprised how much of it there is.