I treat my earbuds rough, so every year or two they break. And every time, as I walk around the world without a constant soundtrack of Spotify and podcasts, I think to myself, "I really ought to do this more often." And then I have ideas.
Some of us watch a lot of TV. We may read more articles than we need to (the irony is not lost on me here). We go on Twitter to kill our boredom. By consuming information more carefully and treating it like food for our minds (which it is), we can do it in a way that actually works without completely cutting it out of our lives.
There are so many great apps out there that it's tough to not use them all. We store our shopping lists in one app, clip from the web to a note-taking app, and tell our virtual assistant to remind us about tasks. Consolidating that information into one place instead can help avoid information overload.
Dear Lifehacker, While trying to be an informed person in this digital age, I am rapidly becoming overwhelmed. I am currently getting my different news types (social/business/general) via Facebook, Twitter and RSS in Outlook, I find it to be a real mission to keep on top of it. To add to the problem, I bookmark sites often for further reading after hours. Is there a site or program that can magically merge it all for me? Please help me untangle this digital mess !
What's your maximum NPH? How many notifications are you exposed to every hour? Let's take a second to think critically about these constant requests for your attention: What do they mean? Who is making them? Why are they there? Before I wrote the Information Diet, I audited myself and found I was receiving upwards of 10 notifications per hour: one every six minutes.
Complaints about unwanted messages, the inability to ever achieve 'inbox zero' and the general hassle of staying on top of email are a constant factor in modern working life. But while it's easy to complain and tempting to argue that email has become irrelevant and out-of-date, the fault often lies with the recipient, not the medium.
Author Clay Johnson believes that, much like junk food leads to obesity and health problems, junk information is killing our productivity and efficiency, and worse, feeding ignorance. His new book, The Information Diet, discusses this problem in depth. In this post, Johnson details how to kickstart your Information Diet for 2012.
Technologist Clay Shirky argues that information overload isn't the problem tech journalism makes it out to be: it's really a failure of information filters. At the Web 2.0 Expo last week, Shirky said that the internet has made it easier and cheaper for publishers to broadcast information—so now the onus is on the consumer to filter out the noise (much like client-side spam filters). Hit the play button after the jump to hear Shirky's well-argued points.
Running a web site that pumps out almost 20 posts a day about how to be more productive, we're already aware of the irony of technology that tries to fix the problems that technology presents. The New York Times gets hip to the Catch-22 in an article today on the firms and software applications out to stem the tide of information overload that this field has created:
"There's a competitive advantage of figuring out how to address this problem," Tang said. He said that there was "a certain amount of irony" in the fact that the solutions are coming from the very companies that built the digital systems in the first place.
Philipp Lenssen, who's normally blogging about Google products and developments, sent a single question to workers at some of the country's top tech firms on how they deal with all the email, feeds, voicemail, and other clatter clamoring for their attention. The answers are informative and, in some cases, pretty surprising. Elinor Mills, reporter at CNET, talks about her reasonable "triage" approach:
I scan email and see what needs immediate attention, set aside things that can wait and then go back to them in order of importance, hoping that none of them expires in the meantime ... I scan the RSS and iGoogle headlines several times a day. It is overwhelming the amount of information that gets thrust at you every day all day, especially in the daily news business. I also make a lot of lists of ideas to pursue and stories I'm working on to try to stay on top of it.
Blogger Steve Rubel discusses his methods for mitigating the Attention Crash caused by modern information overload while remaining well-informed. In the midst of all the demands new technology and information place on our lives, Steve keeps up by making unusable time usable.
I read a ton. However, I have mastered how to stuff it into pockets of time that are normally "unusable." I get through about one business book a week by listening to them when I commute, travel and run errands. In addition, I use Instapaper.com (more) to bookmark articles I want to read.
I doubt Rubel is the only one to listen to a book on his commute, so let's hear how you take advantage of unusable time in the comments.Three Ways to Mitigate the Attention Crash, Yet Still Feel Informed
Technologist Alexander van Elsas says that the problems a lot of new services and web applications solve are specific to a certain kind of super-techie user. He writes:
How many people do you know outside your tech community that want to have 25 desktop applications live, running Firefox alongside with 10 tabs open, twittering 100 times a day, reading and commenting articles on FriendFeed, writing a blog post about it, starting riots to get traffic going, AND still have a normal day job and a life after that? I don't know anyone that fancies that kind of life.
It's a strong argument that services like Twitter or FriendFeed solve problems only a select few have—too many social networks, no time to blog, email overload, etc. Are front-line, super-connected techies harbingers of what's to come for mainstream folks, or are we nerds just making solutions to solve problems created by our own solutions? Photo by jonrawlinson.