How to avoid an exploding brain

A few days ago I’ve signed up for Bob Poole’s Water Cooler Hangout newsletter. Coincidence or not, one of the first posts I received in my inbox was entitled “Exploding Brains and 2012”. It’s a nice little rant about how stressful it can be to be a part of the information age. In short, there’s just too much information to handle. And that +1000 counter on your feedreader lures you into thinking that the Information Age is rather pointing out that you’re still in the Age of Stupid instead of the Age of the well-informed.

“The header on my Google Reader always says 1000+. That means I have over 1,000 items that I subscribe to that I have not read yet. It always says 1000+ even though I read some every day. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will never be able to read all the blogs and watch all the videos that I would like.” (Bob Poole)

It kind of struck a nerve when I read this. To be honest, I’m slightly information addicted. Combined with an urge to be on top of things, that’s just a shortcut to misery. I’ve ponderded a lot about bookmarksystems, feedreaders, blogrolls, databases, notebooks, libraries, archives and stuff like that trying to figure out a sensible way to deal with the neverending flood of ‘news’ coming our way. The more I worried, the worse it got. Every system had it’s flaws.

Why? Because of two main reasons:
1. I figured it was all about efficiency&completeness instead of effectiveness
2. I was too much history-oriented instead of present-ingrained

If these are your paradigms to stick around in the information age, good luck. If I would have clung to them, I probably would have been a nervous wreck right now.

So one day, I decided to change things.

First I wondered what my main drives were to look for information.

There were two:
1. I was afraid to miss out on something.
2. I was curious, I wanted to find out how things work.

Second, I tried to describe what happened right now. The truth was that while being busy trying to devour all this information I learned a lot, but I also missed out on the best of life.

Why? Because I was devouring without tasting or digesting. Because I didn’t value the information I worked with.

It’s like going to an all you can eat restaurant where you fill your plate all over again and at the end of the meal your stomach hurts, and you have absolutely no clue of what you ate. If you try to recall the sensations every separate ingredient or dish gave you, you cant. Your body is supposed to be filled with nutrients but you hardly feel stronger or enriched. It’s rather the opposite.

At one point I decided this couldn’t last forever. I needed a new rule of thumb if I was going to make it through the information age in a sensible way.

So here it goes: whenever I ‘eat’ information, I take the time to choose, taste and to digest.
Does it work? From time to time. I have my relapses. But I’m gradually getting there. I now know I have a different option when dealing with information overconsumption. I know what that other option feels like.

In a sense, it’s a different way of paying attention, of being aware of what you’re doing.
It’s a different way of feeling. Maybe it’s like mindfulness for the information age. Maybe it’s just common sense with respect to all our senses (and not just our information eager brain).

A small anecdote to conclude this rant. Someone once told me that there’s more mystery to common things than to so-called complex constructions. In a sense if you read it well, you can learn a lot from our society from looking e.g. at a chair (shape, materials, history, use, context).

If you develop the proper way of tasting that stuff, it’s not a matter of how much you can eat but how much you do with what you eat.

Bon appetit.

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