Digital Overload – Let Me Check My iPhone To See If That Is True

Mouse tangle
Image by the_demiurge via Flickr

Rampant Digital Over-Consumption
(Or, why it took me three days to write an article that should’ve taken 30 minutes. I know, I know, I should have used Wikipedia…)

If you’re anything like me (and if you’re not, I should feel terrifically foolish right now), your current desk job work flow probably looks something like this:

  • Get assignment
  • Read assignment
  • Check Facebook
  • Re-read assignment because you weren’t paying attention the first time
  • Embark on Step 1 of 20 for assignment
  • Check work email
  • Check personal email
  • Read the latest online comic
  • Find free Kindle download
  • Work on Step 1 of assignment some more
  • Check Facebook
  • Comment on your mother’s picture of her dog
  • Like your ex-boyfriend’s broken heart status
  • Re-read what you’ve already done for Step 1 of work assignment because you forgot what you were even doing.
  • Take the time to do search engine optimization on this page.
It’s the condition of not only difficulty focusing on a single task (ie: just finishing task 1),
but also the impairment of committing to memory what we just read (the assignment),
because it takes time for our brains to commit experience (reading) to memory – time we
do not give ourselves when leaping from one stimulant to another. This is what I shall
hereby call Rampant Digital Over Consumption Condition, or
even – Rampant Digital Overeating Condition, because that makes me feel like an information fatty.

Too Much Information

Too Much Information

Before we continue, here are a few quick ways to tell if you are anything like me and suffer from said condition:

Symptoms of Rampant Digital Overeating Condition

  • Excessive multitasking
  • Spending less than 5 minutes on one cohesive thought at a time while “working” at a computer
  • Spending the majority of a working day, or any given working hour, at a desk job surfing.
  • Surfing the Internet while watching TV.
  • Stunted attention span
  • Difficulty reading a solid page of information all the way through, in order.
  • The inexplicable and over-powering urge to fill every single moment with stimulation (ie: texting or playing mobile games while waiting for the elevator to reach you).
  • Difficulty focusing on one task at hand without frequent digital intermission
  • Increasing forgetfulness unrelated to age
  • Forgetting what you were just doing …as in 30 seconds ago.
  • Where am I?
  • If you need to lose weight, well, you can that online too.

What Are the Causes of Rampant Digital Overeating Condition?

Overeating the constant stream of digitalia (new word) blasted at us from every corner of our daily lives from cell phones, to email, to email on cell phones, to text alerts, to desktops, to laptops, to counter tops (sorry, I’m hungry), to notebooks, to netbooks, to TV, to kindles – information is flying all around us and in massive, zooming quantities, and on occasion, it’s bound to smack us in the head.

Not only are we being over-stimulated, but we’re being over-assisted. No longer do we have to remember that 2 times 2 is 4 (and 2 times 3 is 6…. honk if you’re following me on this one), because we have a calculator do it for us. No longer do we have to remember that the word “equine” means “it has to do with horses,” a Google define command will do that for us. No longer do we plan our trips ahead, because GPS will assist us every step of the way.

All of this is causing us to attach ourselves in a helpless, vulnerable way to our devices. And why wouldn’t it? Water flows down a duck’s back, not up it.

But, even if having all this information available to us is causing us to be dependent and exhibit ADD-like qualities, whose fault is it?

Pointing Fingers (or Pointing Mice)

Is the Internet as a source of massive digital overload to blame for our over-stimulation ails, or are we, as individuals? Did the availability and excessive exposure to all this information make us dependent on constant stimulation or did our need for constant stimulation drive us to increasingly seek it out?

Quite obviously, you are reading this informative article about too much information streamed to us through the Internet on a computer that is accessing the web and in all likelihood, you found yourself on this page describing the negative effects of plowing through digital content as if it were candy through a series of searches whose keywords likely consisted of something to do with your harbored resentment towards computers so that you may view a page about the negative effects of computers and the Internet on your Internet-connected computer.

I know it might take you a minute to untangle from that knot, so in the meantime, I’ll be looking at some comics.

Caught Up To Your Digital Self, Yet?

Back to our question: is our dependency on information a matter of nature or nurture? To answer this question, I did what I usually do when confronted with generalizations about the digital generation – watched old people. What I found was books tucked under arms on the way to the bathroom, crosswords done on a knee while waiting in the line at the post office, and mundane direction labels being read idly at the check stand.

Conclusion: people like stimulation. It’s easy. It prevents us from having to keep our brains occupied ourselves. But, as TV has always told us (and our iPod does now) – easier isn’t always better.

So, Is All This Information Bad?

It’s been said many times – information is like food. An appropriate amount is necessary and good for us. Too little leaves our brains anorexic, but, too much gives us information diabetes.

And not only is the quantity of information we take in crucial, but the type and its metaphoric nutrition value, plays an enormous role. While some information assaulted at you has the nutritional value of a moon pie, some has the nutrient content of a vitamin-rich V8 (we happen to be the equivalent of a super-charged pill made of spinach, brussel sprouts, asparagus, green tea, black tea, white tea, lemongrass, beans, tangerines, pomegranates, cranberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas and prunes. We recommend taking at least three times a day, preferably with a meal).

But, too much information, too consistently, and without a break can inhibit us from being able to even use that information. When you don’t allow yourself time between digital tasks to form lasting memories of all this information, you end up like me and have ridiculous difficulty remembering even the simplest and most important information we should be retaining. In fact, I’ve already forgotten what I was writing this article about.

So, How Do We Unplug?

Even if the information isn’t all bad, it’s still good to unplug from it every once in a while – take a break, go on an ecotour, refocus, process our healthy information, and reflect. Even our teachers told us to do this in school after learning a new topic. At least the good ones did.

So how do we do step back and unplug?

The first step I’ve found to unplugging ourselves from our digital dependency, is to do a lot of research – primarily on the world wide web, as books were written before we had such problems.

Lucky for you, I’ve already done step one, so you can proceed directly to step two and go from there:

  • Baby steps. In this case, literally in the form of steps. Every hour you’re on the computer, make yourself stop. Get up from your computer, leave your phone (unless you’re at a coffee shop, in which case, only leave it if it was made before 2005), and walk around. Walk around the office building, your house, or whatever other edifice you might’ve been sulking in. Take at least 10 minutes. Look at the trees, or the cement, depending… and allow yourself to simply reflect. You’ll find that that massive overload of information you downloaded the last hour will be much more sticky in your brain than before you started doing this.
  • Go out to dinner. Not only is it enjoyable and luxurious, but your date might kick you should you pick up the phone, thus rendering you physically forced to let go.
  • Take weekend picnics. You started with 10 minutes, now let’s get risky. Take a picnic with someone you enjoy for at least an hour. Make a sammich (that’s Internet speak for meat between two pieces of bread), pack some fruit, and enjoy a day away from easy stimulation.
  • Plan a trip. Use maps and phone books to plan a vacation away from it all. Just watch for them being outdated.

And now for some instant digital entertainment (that has the nutritional value of a Twinkie):

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