THE BLOG

The Clutter of Information Overload

05/25/2015 11:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2016

A blog follower wrote, "I find and file so much information in my head. I see a link... and wow... that leads to more INFORMATION! It is the FEAR of missing out on something... so we keep searching (and the Internet provides us with endless loops to follow). It's an issue for me. I need your help in this area. How do I focus on real life despite this information stuff going on?"

Information can be clutter. When we get too much info, we shut down. Because getting information can be addictive, we can be overwhelmed by the info and still keep seeking more info. Even when it's hurting us.

A Newsweek article a few years back talked about information overload (don't follow this right now, finish reading this first). There's a great quote from it, "Trying to drink from a firehose of information has harmful cognitive effects."

It can be hard to step away from this endless flow of information even when it has a negative inpact because it's part of our culture. Info addiction can seem okay when so many other people are doing the same activity.

Even though I know it can be hard on me, I sometimes get pulled into this experience myself. My biggest info black hole are online articles about rock and roll. I'll see something about the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, or the Who and feel myself pulled right into the article. I imagine I'm going to learn something new. It's compulsive and exciting. But the odd thing is, I don't enjoy the reading. It's usually something I already knew. It's not rewarding like when I listen to those bands' music. And afterwards I feel empty. I didn't gain anything. Actually I lost something: myself.

This situation of information overload is an odd predicament to be in because we are built to learn things so we can take care of our lives. We are naturally inclined to take in information so we can take what we learned and make our lives a better place to be. But the kind of information we tend to get from website articles, Facebook, Twitter doesn't translate into truly, living benefits in our lives away from our computers and smart phones.

I think deeper down there's a part of us that is craving connection and hoping to fulfill that need with electronic info and sharing info. Conversation is a way get connection with another person. But electronic information as a means of conversation doesn't provide that intimacy we need to feel a true connection.

What can we do?

The first step in breaking the information overload is noticing the toll it's taking. Notice the exhaustion, and how much energy it uses up, and how unsatisfied you feel afterwards. We tend to think of the excitement we feel as we're first encountering the info, and not how we feel afterwards.

The next step is not being critical of yourself after an Internet info binge. It happened. How could it not? It's very alluring. It's free. It's always available. You're looking at words and images on a brightly lite screen that makes it seem more exciting than it is. It's exciting because you can feel the presence of a lot of other people on the Internet. Info on the Internet is always changing. It's constantly becoming new. New things attract our attention. There's a fear that if we don't gain the new info, we'll be missing out on something important.

What helps next is to take moments while you're on line and notice how you're feeling. As if you are trying on some clothing in a store, or sampling food. How is it making you feel in the moment? Does it make you feel good? Do you want to continue this feeling? If you're in the midst of an addictive action, you may not want to or be able to stop. But still it can help to check in on how you are feeling. It creates some distance in yourself to see what's going on. It can help break-up the intense emotional involvement that keeps us stuck in a repetitive task that isn't benefiting us.

The Internet and 24-hour cable TV and the many movie, TV, and music streaming sites featuring thousands of selections and the easy access to computers and cell phones have trained us to be constantly active. Any kind of stillness and peaceful moments can seem odd, even wrong. The thing is, we need some quiet and reflective time to feel deeply okay. We also need person-to-person in person connection. No amount of information will satisfy the thirst for these basic things.