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Monday, 15 August 2011

Information Overload

Despite successfully minimizing my physical possessions (as outlined in my first blog), I still felt weighed down by something, some form of lingering stress. I felt as if I hadn’t let go of all the unnecessary baggage in my life. It didn’t take me long to figure out what that was. You see, I was stressed out by information overload.

We live in the Age of Information and subscribe to the myth that knowing more is better. Today’s technology ensures a steady stream of information from friends, family, and also media and corporations. And we can’t get enough of it. However, society is so connected now it has become a tangled web. Information has become so abundant that it has lost its quality. E-mails were once crafted with care and length, but are now typically poorly executed bursts of loose sentences. Wholesome content on media streams such as TV and Youtube are being crowded out by mindless entertainment (dare I say Jersey shore?). I would guess that 90% of the information we receive on a daily basis is crap. The Age of Information has consequently resulted in a brain drain and made us more distracted and, in mine and many experts’ opinions, dumber.
Smartphones have played a large role in distracting and dumbing down society, particularly in youth. This is unfortunate because smartphones can be amazingly productive tools if used correctly. The problem is most people don’t. Instead, smartphone use has facilitated addiction to texting (and even sexting), neglect of grammar and spelling, and shortening of attention spans. If you are unlucky enough to get one for work purposes, you may never actually leave the office. Even after you escape the daily confines of your office cubicle, your work follows you home, uploaded to the palm of your hand, teasing you with its melodic beeps that coddle your desire to feel needed by someone, anyone out there in the virtual world.

Despite staying away from smartphones myself, the internet’s addictive toxin was already in my bloodstream and was quickly mutating me into a zombie. At home and work I was constantly checking e-mails and logging into Facebook for quick scans of the news feed looking for something, anything to fill the void in my skull cavity. I was no longer capable of independent thought, my imagination replaced by packets of data wired from a mysterious source through my laptop screen.

Fortunately I recognized my problem and decided to unplug. I unsubscribed from e-mail newsletters, cancelled extra TV channels, deactivated Facebook, and even added a “no junk mail” sticker to my mailbox. Somewhere along the way I even pried myself from the temptation of videogames, which previously granted me access to an unlimited world in which my imagination could frolic and mingle into unreasonable hours every day.

After unplugging from information overload I felt empty, unimportant, for awhile. I was under anxiety that I may have missed out on juicy bits of information, like a Lululemon sale or an invite to a Facebook event. But I eventually began to recover. Left to my own devices my brain began to tingle and twitch after years of atrophy, and over time slowly regain consciousness. I can now say I have shed my inner zombie and reawakened as a fully functioning human being again.

Nowadays I’m still not completely isolated from the Age of Information but I am striking a much better balance. I am even giving the new Google+ a try. It seems to understand the meaning of the word ‘privacy’ and tries not to bombard you with useless crap, unlike some other social networking site.

Since I’ve gone nearly information-free I’ve noticed many positive changes in my life. Most importantly, my mind is more focused and clear. There is a big difference between clear and blank. Clear is when my mind is free and at full capacity to think. Blank is when I turn off my X-box 360 and somehow simultaneously switch off my brain, leaving a big void that can only be refilled the next time I turn on the console.

Clearing my mind has enabled me to think more creatively. I find myself not wanting to spend all my time at home anymore, a big contrast to my old hermit days. Most surprisingly, I find myself busier now than when I was wasting hours on the internet and videogames. Those hours are now spent cooking, doing yoga, socializing and, yes, blogging. I have essentially replaced my zombie time with more productive time.

In the big picture, I have further achieved my goal of minimalism and being free from stuff. In this case the stuff was virtual, coming in the form of information overload.

I finally located the unnecessary baggage that was weighing me down. It was more than just the internet. It was TMI – too much information. I guess knowing less actually is more.

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