Too Much Information

No, I am not referring to oversharing during conversations here. What I am alluding to is the deluge of data that can make daily life like drinking from a fire hose. While we all may be inundated with media messages from sunup to sundown, I suggest that we not simply accept it but instead actively resist its onslaught. It is an illusion to think that information necessarily leads to illumination. As Herbert Simon says, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

In Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write, “If information is coming quickly and overabundantly, knowledge, paradoxically, is harder to come by. When information is in greater supply, knowledge is harder, not easier, to create, because we have to sift through more facts, more assertions, more stuff, to arrive at it. An abundance of information often means more dissonance, more contradictions.”

And according to The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin, a study by the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California, San Diego, found that Americans consumed information for an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on a typical day. With all that consumption comes overload so we’d do well to listen to William James, who wrote, “Wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

I am a lifelong learner and love reading so I must continually discipline myself to practice what I am preaching here. One tip I can share that has helped me is to limit the flow of information into my life by getting off virtually all online and other mailing lists, including magazine, newspaper and newsletter subscriptions. As a result, I no longer spend countless hours perusing said materials and am instead free to create my own art. Consider only consuming media that adds value to your life so you can create some meaningful stuff of your own.

Creation Versus Consumption

Lately I’ve been thinking about the amount of information I’ve been processing versus what I’ve been producing. As a communications consultant information processing comes with the territory so I have to be extra vigilant to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand. To that end, I subscribe to just one print magazine, get only basic cable, scan the online version of the New York Times each morning, and don’t own a smart phone (yet).

However, there are ebbs and flows to my sea of information and adding to my typical consumption pattern is the fact that I am currently enrolled in an online course involving several pages of paperwork each week, I am editing what started out as a 400 page book for a client, I am continuing the research of material for a book of my own, and I am reading no less than four books simultaneously, three on my Kindle and one from my local library.

All of which has served to largely stifle my own creative output, save for the periodic blog post such as this one. Speaking of blogs, I came across one the other day that captured my conundrum exactly. With a post titled “The Creative Equilibrium” at blogger James Shelley aptly describes my experience: “The more content I am consuming the less margin I have for creating.”