Sound-Byte Nation

We live in a world of information overload. What is more challenging is that, not only are we overloaded with information, we are overloaded with contradictory information! You can hop on-line to find almost anything out in a matter of seconds, but you also find 17,000 websites or mentions of whatever it is you are looking for. Inevitably, if you go to a handful of different pages, you will find different opinions. Even more stunning is that you may get different “facts!” We can never make good decisions with bad information. You can only make good decisions with good information. But how do you decipher what information you really need?

First off, we seem convinced that this is a new issue. It is not. Have you ever walked in to a library and just stood there and looked around? You are surrounded by information overload. Have you ever walked in to a school or university and considered the wealth of information to which you have immediate access? Probably not. So why do we think that we have so much more information today? Granted, our knowledge base is growing rapidly. It has been said that our knowledge of stuff is doubling every 5-8 years. That means that every several years, the amount of information we know about stuff is twice what it was a few year ago. That is a lot of information! However, that does not mean that you have to know all of it. Just hearing that puts that “high alert” tone in your head. No wonder we are so willing to spend $4 for a cup digibyte exchange of coffee… we have to be awake in case we miss some information about stuff!

The difference is this. In the past, we have needed to go seek out our information. Today, our information seeks us out regardless of where we are hiding. We do not suffer from information overload. We suffer from something I call “Real Time Syndrome.” Our affliction has to do with feeling that we need to know minutia now! The very fact that we CAN know minutia NOW makes us NEED to know it NOW. As a society, we are more impulsive than ever. That, I argue, is why too many people are constantly so pre-occupied. The brilliant term “Continuous Partial Attention” was coined by Linda Stone in 1998. It describes how people do many things simultaneously while doing none of them terribly effectively. You may be able to drive while you eat a cheeseburger and talk on your cell phone (via headset, of course… after all, you want to have a hand available should your pickle fall out), but are you really paying attention to any of those things? Really. Of course not. You are paying partial attention to 3 different things.

So, how do you focus on one thing without feeling the impulse to check your e-mail or text a message back to someone while sitting in your morning meeting? Can you really turn it off without imploding? I assure you, you can.

Ask yourself this question… by “tuning out,” am I really missing anything? Seriously, think about it for a minute. Other than 20 years from now not being able to answer Trivial Pursuit questions, how much of the stuff that you hear is of value to you? Does it really matter whether you know it or not. If you really think about it, you may be surprised at the answer. Much of it is worthless mind clutter. I spent several years immersed in it as a news producer, reporter, and anchor. Since leaving the profession, by choice, I have intentionally “tuned out” for the past several years.

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