In our 21st century, thinness is seen as the ultimate virtue. Every cover of magazines, posters at bus stops, adverts praise for slimness. Thousands of articles describe the latest miracle diet to get rid of unwanted kilos. It also applies to many other things: get rid of unwanted items in your house, toxic people in the neighbourhood or even nasty children. Being freed from what you don't really need seems to be the new trend, in this era of consumerism. Surprisingly, they never tell you how to escape the scourge of modernity: infobesity.
Fifty years ago, you would buy your newspaper in the morning, listen to the radio during your lunch break, watch the news in the evening, and maybe your gossipy neighbour would keep you updated about the life of the people living in your street. Twenty years ago, you could open your computer and surf on the web to look for the latest news or for specific information on a topic of interest. Today, your smartphone keeps buzzing day and night, urging you to check the latest status of your Facebook friends or the most retweeted quote, reminding you that you still have 20 urgent emails to process with yesterday as a deadline, warning that your train will – again – be late today…
And it gets even more difficult when you're at work. You try to focus on this touchy file, checking carefully facts and figures, looking for the perfect formulation, but the notification icon of incoming emails keeps ringing and constantly interrupts you. You end up the day frustrated, with a paper half as good as it could have been and which took you twice the time to write than you would normally need. And I'm not even talking about the time you spent on reading and sorting out tens of useless emails.
Removing the plug? There are other options
Running to your boss office and asking to be disconnected from the company's network is obviously not the solution. You would end up isolated and not able to work. But is it really a binary problem, with only a yes/no solution? Being overconnected or disconnected, isn't it possible to find a way in-between?
Here are a few tips to help you overcome the information overload:
1. Breathe. Deeply. Once again.
2. Go on a "healthy diet". Just like with food, it's easy to fall into the trap of "junk information". Favour quality over quantity. Instead of subscribing to 8 daily different newsletters that in the end will bring you exactly the same information, chose one that will bring you at the end of the week a summary of the most important things you might have missed. This colder information, compared with the hot news, often includes analyses which help you to better understand the outcomes and impacts of the events.
3. Use your apps. They can be intrusive but can also help you to manage the flows of information by selecting it for you in a smart way. Set Outlook so it automatically sorts out your incoming emails. Bookmark some pages during the week to read them later when you have more time, thanks to tools like Instapaper, Little Printer, Pocket or Summly. Ask Twitter or LinkedIn to send you a weekly summary of the activity, so you don't have to check daily.
4. Experience a full disconnection for a few days or weeks. Holidays are probably the best period to do it. No phone, internet, emails, no social media, no television, no radio, only you and the real people around. If two weeks seems to be too long for you, then decide for a moment in the week where you ban technology and allow your brain to rest: a few hours every Sunday for example.
It's like quitting smoking: at the beginning you will be obsessed by the information you might miss, but after a while, you will realise than you are still up to date with the most important news, and managed to gain some quality time that you can share with your loved ones. Or spend for yourself: go shopping, take a nap, go for a walk, have a beer with friends, take some time to think. More and more people have been following this path recently. They have even created a movement: the Slow Web. Maybe the next step in the access to information?