We all feel it. How do we keep up with this mountain of information gushing towards us each and everyday?
Hundreds of posts sitting unread in Google Reader, our PLN sharing dozens of shiny new links on Twitter & FB, forum posts, a new edition of your favorite journal published – the firehose goes on and on.
It’s that feeling that Alexandra Samuel refers to as FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Shirky says it’s caused not by information overload, but filter failure, and the ability to manage this flow of information (or cognitive load management) is one of the essential skills future knowledge workers will need to succeed. So, just like the food we put into our body, we need to be critical and discerning with the kind of food we put into our brains.
This food metaphor forms the interesting premise of a new book by Clay Johnson called The Information Diet, which I have just begun reading (the physical book is due out early in the new year, Kindle version is available now).
What I like about the tact of Johnson is that it is not simply a rant against technology and social media, but instead is a much more holistic and, in my opinion, realistic view of information consumption. This balanced view is reflected in a recent blog post by Johnson on Facebook & Twitter.
It turns out that networks like Facebook and Twitter are perfect for consuming your socially proximate information. They’re not bad for an information diet, they’re critical to having a balanced one. But only if you use these tools smartly and proactively — by eliminating cruft, and consuming deliberately from these sources. Granted, spending the day on Facebook is not great for your information diet. But eating bowl after bowl of fiber-one cereal is probably not great for your food diet either.
Sure Twitter and Facebook are no substitute for being physically present with your loved ones, and having meaningful social interactions with them. But as long as you are deliberate about both (there are some great tips in the book about this) then you can use these tools to your advantage. So let’s not dismiss the tools because they’re technical, or out of some kind of strange generational preference. The problem is rarely in the medium itself and usually in either the habits of the user, or the system that supports it.
Reading this reminded me of the excellent Stillness in Motion session at this fall’s ETUG workshop, which I found immensely refreshing and inspiring. Facilitated by Ross Laird of Kwantlen University, Brian Williams of DIYDharma and Scott Leslie of BCcampus, the session focused on how to be mindful about the ways in which we interact with technology.
Since that session, I have found myself asking a very simple question whenever I fire up my computer: what is it that I want to do right now? And I’ve found that asking this one simple question has made me much more productive when I get on. It brings my purpose front and centre, and I find I am less likely to get distracted down a rabbit hole when I take that brief moment to really clarify what it is I want to do before I mindlessly plug in.
Sure, I still find myself with a few dozen tabs open in my various browsers, email client up and running with constant notifications coming in, Tweetdeck firing away in the corner on my second monitor, but it is a start. And at least I find I am getting that one thing done that I wanted to get done.
I hope that The Information Diet will help me find a few more nuggets like that to make me a more concious information consumer.