There’s no denying that the Information Age has been beneficial, making it easy to learn about nearly any topic quickly. However, that information overload comes at a cognitive cost. If you force yourself to process to much information, you can slip into what’s known as a “mental fog”. Photo by Amanjeev.
As knowledge and news site Big Think explains, as helpful as the flood of information we have can be at times, we just haven’t evolved to handle it yet. Our minds are designed to process one very simple train of thought at a time. In fact, most of the time we think we’re “multitasking”, we’re really just rapidly switching from one task to another. Even if we’re not on our phones constantly, we’re still flooded with information at the shops, on the road and at work compared to how much information needed to be processed 50 years ago. This overload leads to a cognitive slowdown called mental fog. And it can hurt us in the long run:
In fact, multitasking was found to increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as adrenaline, which can overstimulate the brain and cause “mental fog”.
As we go around in our mental fog, why would we even listen to experts like Levitin and Miller? In the information overload age, a layman is empowered as much as a so-called “expert”. Let’s say you come across a Neil DeGrasse Tyson article. If you don’t like something about it, and especially if you don’t understand it, you are free to leave a comment under his Facebook article about just how wrong you think he is. You have the power to immediately set this “expert” straight. Doesn’t matter that you don’t have a degree in astrophysics. Your emotional reaction to his “facts” is all that matters here.
Put simply, the more information you have to handle, the less time you have to give it the thought it deserves. If you start to feel you’re entering a mental fog — and you’ll notice if you start making poorer decisions, respond more emotionally than rationally or make frequent errors — slow down and try to limit how much information you have to process. Drop a task or two, or simply take a break from the screens.