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Home / Health  /
Let's All Subscribe To The Age Of Information Overload
information overload

A lot less information would have done wonders for this guy's pysche


There is a fine Indian restaurant located on the street parallel to the one on which we live. Five-star hotels in the area often use them to cater the occasional Indian wedding.  By Thailand standards, it's on the expensive side. 

A couple of years back, my wife noticed they'd begun to offer a weekend brunch for around $17. Inflation has since raised that price to $26. This brunch isn't so much a buffet as an all-you-can-order feast. You select any dish on the brunch menu, and the waiters deliver it to you: appetizers, salads, tandoori platters, mains, desserts.  The first time we went, I got a little carried away and ordered eight dishes up front.  When all eight were delivered at once, occupying every available square inch of the small table, my wife became overwhelmed and barely spooned in a morsel.

Too much, too soon.

On subsequent trips, I learned the lesson. I ordered only a few appetizers, then a few mains, then more mains. My wife actually ate on these visits.

Buffets don't overwhelm like an all-you-can-order meal can. The food is over there.  You walk up at your leisure to the serving area and you parcel however much you want onto your plate.  There's a different impact when it's all shoved in front of you all at once. 

Like an endless stream of information.

Vast reservoirs of information were always available to us. It's just that, pre-internet, the information, like the buffet table, was over there.  We visited a local library or went to the room in our home where the encyclopedia set was stacked.  We weren't surrounded by it.  It wasn't always in our face.

Now it's at the touch of our fingertips. Literally.  When we're in the middle of a conversation and a questionable fact comes up, we can - and do - whip out our smartphones to conduct fact checking on the spot. 

This is a big convenience. And a big distraction. 

Because looking up one thing leads to looking up a tangential thing which leads to looking at some picture vaguely related to that thing which leads to viewing a video fleshing out that thing which eventually leads to you asking after an hour has elapsed what thing you were looking up in the first place.

When you visit practically any web site, you are besieged with pop ups to subscribe to their newsletter, icons to subscribe to their Facebook, Twitter,  YouTube, Instagram, Line and whatever other channels are fashionable in this era to affix to your web property.

In most instances, the information on offer is so mediocre, you'd be a fool to let these purveyors of hackneyed content get a hold of your e-mail address to send you more dreck. What sane man goes out of his way to receive more junk mail? I am more guarded now than I've ever been. I once had a dedicated Hotmail address for these subscription lists. That doesn't work as well as it used to. Vague yet alluring pitches pop up a lot more often than they did five years ago and to get the full extent of their 'valuable content' or the one-of-a-kind info-gems in their free reports, you need to offer up your e-mail address in exchange.  That is tantamount to getting bombarded with more of their e-mails until the end of time.  The e-mail address soon became an abused spam box.   I was forced to setup e-mail aliases, a temporary e-mail that forwards to one of my real e-mail addresses.  When the e-mails coming in from this sender become more than I can manage, I delete the alias with pleasure.   In this way, I can be sure the plug has been pulled for good.

Even if I had a masterful b.s. detector, if I intuitively knew who to give out my e-mail address to for quality info, the sheer amount of content they beam me with is as overwhelming as those eight main dishes were to my wife at the fine Indian restaurant.  One popular marketer whose list I joined just to see how he frames his offers mails his lists more often than my childhood Australian shepherd collie emitted gas. I hear from this marketer or one of his cronies almost every day, and every third e-mail is a pitch for one of his courses or packets.   

If, twenty years ago, someone culled eight great articles and sent them to me every week, I'd digest them with gusto.   That'd be like reading a superlative magazine. I get sent such a list now weekly, and it's just too much on top of all the other information that's tossed at me from all comers.  Back when they mailed me only once a month, I read nearly every article. With plentitude came listlessness.  I've taken to just skimming the article listings now and maybe clicking on one. More often than not, the title and subject matter wind up more interesting than the actual articles, making me that less keen to give their next e-mail a fair chance. The last few I haven't bothered to open. When someone is an overmailer, s/he'd better triple check the content going out is ten times as valuable. 

I used to read books regularly. That was back in nostalgic times when you carried a real book in your hand and read no more than a few at a time. Now that I am able to download books to my heart's desires and store their infinitesimally tiny kilobytes on the immense storage of my phone's microSD card, I have hundreds of books in my pocket during every waking moment. Theoretically, with the books digitized and always on me, I should read more, and yet, if I had to take an educated guess, I probably read less. Part of that, I imagine, is worthwhile reading hours get eaten up by various competing internet media.

But the larger impact: information overload.

Reading a book on my always-connected-to-the-internet phone, if I come across a word, concept, incident, personality, I can click on a button and get more information instantaneously as I am simultaneously slammed with more banners, offers, and other lures. A book that would have taken a day to read in earlier eras can take a week now.  Back when I had a book in my hand that functioned only as a book, there wasn't much I could do with it but read it.

When I went to the library in 1987 and saw books on the shelves on hypnotism, astral projection, marketing, science fiction, drama, my appetite for knowledge goaded me into wanting to check them all out but, of course, I could not.  No one would have the time to read so many books, and the library limited the maximum number of books you could checkout to five or six. You couldn't overwhelm yourself because you faced physical constraints. Today, data is digital.  Digital devices can store what equates to an all-you-can-feast-buffet of information.

Information overload is built in to having all of this information so conveniently accessible. Being immersed in this much information induces paralysis. You can't wade through it all, know you can't, and just wring your hands and zone out, made easier than ever in the Information Age.

At the beginning of the 2000's, to see movies and TV shows, one would have to leave the comforts of home, visit a DVD outlet, and rent them.  Usually, I'd rent one at a time, on Tuesdays and Thursdays when all new releases were only $1.   In terms of the cost, I could never get burned. The downside was the time wasted when I rented a loser, but the mechanics of the rental system made it harder to watch a massive number of flicks within a short period.

Netflix made zoning out easier on the masses with a monthly DVD subscription service.  People rented stacks of DVD's in one go mailed to their front doors, gradually making binge watching a common type of entertainment phenomenon.  Non-stop streaming was the next step. Deloitte did a study in 2016 and found that over 70% of American consumers binge watch.    

People binge watched thirty years ago as well, but in that analog era, you could only do your bingeing from the 21-inch set in the living room, and there was a limit on the number of things you could watch and how many hours you could videotape what you weren't around to personally view. Now you can do your bingeing from a 60" LED in the den, the 5.7" smartphone screen in your hand, and plenty of devices in between and choose from an almost unlimited amount of selections to zone out whenever you want and justify it.

Even in an undeveloped country like Thailand where streaming hasn't been commonly available until recently, binge watching has always been easy.  Many still buy pirated DVD's for a couple of bucks and binge that way. Others just download the TV series of their dreams at, admittedly, mockingly slow bandwidth speeds, transfer the downloaded files to their TV or phone, and binge away.  The popcorn and sodas are much less expensive when you're consuming them at home. The bingeing probably occurs less frequently when you have to exert those extra steps to procure the content.   The choice, however, is for all essential purposes just as vast, certainly compared to what the average entertainment consumer before 2010 enjoyed. On my phone at this very moment, I have, more unviewed media hours than I reckon our entire family's videocassette collection from throughout the 1980's

Being information overloaded jades us. Headline-grabbing articles that I would have surely read but a decade ago, I ignore.  Some digital marketing agencies estimate the average person is exposed to from 4,000 to 10,000 advertising related messages a day.  We push advertising messages into the background or we'd go insane. Getting pushed into the background along with them is any type of message, and it becomes harder to connect with people personally and even professionally.

At this very moment, I am running my own advertising campaign for an innovative healing device. I am lucky if a paltry 1.5% of viewers bother to click on the advertisement, and of that tiny percentage, only a fifth are willing to give me their e-mail addresses.    Of that miniscule percentage, a lesser fraction still bother to read any of the follow up e-mail messages.  To them, it's just more information overloaded bullcrap they have to wade through, even if, technically, they've requested it.

We forget how many newsletter lists and feeds we've subscribed to, similar to the way we quickly lose sight of how many contacts we've befriended on Facebook.  We can't fully comprehend how much information is flooding through our pipelines; and since we lack the capacity to assimilate it all, despite perhaps sincerely wanting to, we tune more and more of it out. We have no choice. 

For the longest time, I avoided adding popup subscribe windows to any of my web sites.  I didn't want to contribute to the information landfill. I thought pop ups were irritating and intrusive and if people valued what I was doing, they'd locate the easy-to-find feed subscribe option themselves. I tried to do unto others what I wished they would do unto me. 

I can tell you from experience such politeness is a valueless consideration.  In an information overloaded universe, people want a fact, maybe drift by your site to get it, and leave.    They'll probably ignore you even if you have irritating pop ups. I now consider my pop ups as doing them a favor. If they don't join my list and get more information beamed at them from me (worthwhile and original but which they'll probably ignore anyway), they're just going to get their limited attention span used up by some other schmuck presenting them with info that's probably been recycled off dozens of people's blogs.

I am sure they don't view it that way.

In the world of today, your attention is being chipped at from all sides.  This was always the case, but in our pre-internet pre-smartphone days, the chippers couldn't be seen or heard when we didn't tune in.  The government beamed out its propaganda, the hucksters did their best to sell us get-rich schemes on late night television infomercials, the big brand billboards pummeled us when we crossed busy intersections. Now we cannot escape from the attention seekers. Every other Quora responder, it seems, is trying to get us to subscribe to his own blog, his own brand.  Everyone is a personality trying to sell you on something.  

Attention is focused energy, and when you're attention gets sapped by receiving information from all sides, most of it utterly pointless and useless, you're left feeling drained and unfocused and, if you believe some of the newer studies, more depressed, too.

Ignorance is more blissful than we ever realized. I'll take the blue pill if you promise not to constantly mail me special follow up offers on any other innovative pills. 


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