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Information Overload Inhibits Concentration and How To Minimize Detrimental Effects As Stress

For decades, we’ve been all about developing more and more labor saving devices, communication devices, needing more and more information about everything under the sun. Now we’ve become a society that doesn’t just enjoy, but desperately needs the Blackberry, the pager, the cell phone, the laptop and internet access. Through these devices, we receive information every minute, every hour, every day. We have snail mail, email, radio, television, and phone calls demanding our constant attention. We have books, magazines, reports, and articles that must be read and absorbed. Heaven forbid any information should elude us. We feel we must know everything there is to know, every minute of every day. We’re terrified of being out of the loop, or in the dark about anything.

In our quest to know increasingly and because of our fear of being left out from new information, we have come to a point where it is impossible to concentrate on a project, to focus with laser-like energy. We’re much too busy gathering information. When do we have enough?

David Shenk calls this “data smog” and likens it to pollution we find throughout our world. The production and distribution of information in today’s world has become so much easier to do, not to mention the retrieval of said information, thanks to the internet. This unfortunately, produces an overabundance of low quality information coming at you constantly, every day, from a diverse amount of sources.


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The speed at which our society changes is mind boggling to say the least. Technology changes with each passing minute; there’s always new new ways to make old jobs easier or even obsolete. Scientific breakthroughs and cultural innovations happen with such rapidity that it’s difficult to keep up. Every day, science fiction becomes science fact. And all of us feel we must run to keep up, keep our skills sharp, learn new skills every day, every year, constantly adapt to an ever changing society and work world.

When the distribution of more information began, it was considered a good thing, but we may have already reached our saturation point, and the flow of information towards us continues, increasing every day. It’s time to limit our use of so much useless information.

Futurologist Alvin Toffler has put together a very detailed study of the acceleration of change and its psychological effects. He foresees a time of severe physical and mental disturbances, which he calls “future shock” syndrome. He likens this to the nervous breakdown people experience due to wartime trauma, called “shell shock.” The rapid changes of our modern life can, and he thinks will, produce a state of helplessness and inadequacy.

Studies have been done to show the direct correlation between constant change and physical illness. People with high life changes are more likely to develop serious illnesses.

Change can bring about one of two conditions. A person can become excited and curious about what happens next, or they can become fearful, confused, and tense. The longer these feelings remain, the more likely that fatigue will set in and the person will experience loss of control and feel highly distressed. Anyone who has experienced these feelings will tell you focus and concentration are out the window at this point. It’s impossible to concentrate under these conditions.

Too long in this kind of stressful situation brings about the instinctive animal reaction—fight or flight. A person can become aggressive in his/her behavior, something that is difficult to sustain for long periods, or it can cause that person to want to run away and avoid the whole painful thing. It can also tip a person into total despair and depression, a complete numbing of their sensations, an inability to move forward.

Unfortunately, anxiety seems to be ever present in our society, as evidenced by the record use of drugs to suppress the symptoms, such as sleeplessness, irritability, constant worry, and digestive upsets. Never have so many people needed so much medication just to make it through their lives.

Maybe it’s time to quiet the incessant chatter and stem the flow of useless information. Then we may better determine what’s important to us and what isn’t, what we need and what we can do without, what’s necessary to our existence and what amounts to pollution of our mental world.

What can we do about this “data smog?” How do we clear our heads so as to focus on the problems and concentrate on solutions? For starters, set the filters on your email, to dump the truly useless junk mail. If you must check your email all day, at least limit the amount you must go through. Throw away the obvious junk mail you receive each day unless it pertains to something you really need.

Try turning off the television a few hours a day; take a break from the news on occasion. Leave your Blackberry, pager, and cell phone at home when you take a vacation. Let your mind and body rest. Focus on what’s important. Remember, you cannot examine every piece of data, or every new web site added to the millions out there already. Don’t let information take control of you; you must control information.

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