In 1826, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is credited with coin the phrase “you are what you eat.” In 2020, it would perhaps be appropriate to make a slight revision: the modern knowledge worker is a product of the information they consume. You are a mashup of what you let into your life. The internet produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day so focusing on what really matters is critical.
In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr writes about neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to generate new synapses and learn new routines through repetition. The internet seizes our attention but actually scatters it. Time spent scanning web pages takes away the time we spend reading books and the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation so the circuits that support our intellectual functions weaken and begin to break apart. That’s why skimming has become our dominant mode of reading.
With each new technology, we further develop certain areas of the brain and become lazier in others. Brains undergo plastic changes depending on the pressure we subject them to according to Almudena Capilla, PhD in Neuroscience. Today these changes are occurring in the way that we pay attention. When we’re overloaded with information, so our attention works like a filter. Our current rapid consumption of information is leading us to practice a more selective form of attention. If we practice only one type of attention, we risk the atrophy of another. Similarly, if we only practice anxious reading, skipping around, we become bored with any text that takes more than 3 minutes to read.
The average person spends 10 hours a day consuming information at work and after work surfing the Internet. So, limiting your total daily information intake can also significantly increase your productivity by adding more time to your life. Factor in the time watching TV and it’s easy to spend time consuming a lot of useless information. A healthy information diet means measuring your intake and placing some limits for yourself by making the most out of your information consumption time.
The biggest problem with information overload is the constant stream of interruptions. Writing an email while being constantly interrupted can lead you to spending twice as long to write it and the quality of the final product will be likely significantly lower than if it was written without interruptions. Focus is critical to remembering information. However, switching focus isn’t the only problem associated with our overconsumption of data. A cognitive burden can make you feel more burned out at the end of the day and can decrease your ability to concentrate on what really needs to get done.
A low-information diet doesn’t mean cutting out data entirely but actually choosing the information that you need to consume. Like any other diet, moderation is key to success. To lose weight, you pick and choose what to eat and when to eat. Social media is a great resource for information, but the more people w follow, the less likely we are to see the content we actually want to see.
Check out this video created as a campaign to raise awareness in watching out for cyclists in London. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSQJP40PcGI
Awareness, particularly self-awareness is the first step in any change or growth process. That is why so many people become disappointed in life and never reach the necessary self-awareness to grow and fail to create a better life for themselves.
The late Earl Nightingale, author of The Strangest Secret, wrote one of the great motivational books of all time. His secret: You Become What You Think About Most of the Time. Pay attention to your digital diet.