July 16, 2015

Information Overwhelm: How to Find Gold Nuggets in Piles of Digital Garbage.

computer mouse digital

We live in a world where information flows freely.

This is no gentle trickle, however.

It’s more akin to a fire-hose force, spewing forth a barrage of words, ideas and information and the very amplitude of all this can simply make the words meaningless.

I get completely overwhelmed by it all.

Even with the overwhelm, it’s incredibly important to assimilate information and make it accessible to others. It’s not about dumbing things down, it’s about teaching and being teachable.

So what do we do in order to remain informed and able to relay good information to others?

Seems such an easy task…but not so much. Along with all the good and helpful information, there is also a lot of garbage.

Noise. Sponsored Advertisements. Uninformed Opinions. Nonsense.

We have to unearth that which is worth knowing and discard the rest.

In order to make some sense of all this, we must consider what our most pressing and relevant information needs are, and what can fall by the wayside. What topics burn in our brains like hot little coals, what gets our blood moving.

What do people need to know about? What disasters can we avert with the right information?

Here’s what I’ve learned about ingesting, assimilating and informing over the past few years:

1. I had to learn to think for myself.

For a long time, I was someone who took in a lot of information and then didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t look at things critically—I didn’t know how. Over time, I have been the beneficiary of balanced, thinking teachers and friends. It’s helped me to be more rational and much more accepting of other people’s views.

2. I learned to expose myself (and others) to new ideas.

The first few times we see, hear or read something—it doesn’t generally make much of an impact, so careful and kind repetition is key if you want to help someone along an informed path.

3. I must not parrot (even though it makes me feel uber smart).

If I find something parrot-worthy (meaning I completely agree with the sentiment), my first impulse (or challenge to myself) is to explore the other side.

4. I must honor others.

At times, we must bite our tongues, hold back some of our information and save it for another day. If I want genuine change, it mustn’t come from a place of my own power. We have to decide what’s more important to us: Change or Ego.

Do we want to help others to see a better way or do we want to lord our mighty brains over all of the universe? Honoring others is always a good strategy, but can often entail implementing a lot of patience and faith that others are capable of growth.

5. I must not think I know all that exists to be known.

We should trust those who have devoted their lives to a study of a certain subject, but we should investigate both sides to be fully informed. A balanced perspective is much more valuable and respectable than a one-sided point of view. It shows you have the balls to investigate the possibility that your initial stance may be incorrect.

6. I must concede on the correct points of others.

If I learn something new or am corrected on some of of my information, I thank my “opponent” for opening my eyes on the specifics. Doing this just makes you look like a total badass.

So, can we ever be on the same page? Should we want to be?

Maybe not.

Perhaps, we want to try to raise people’s sights to what we feel is a more noble view (even if that seems arrogant). We must remember, however, that everyone’s perspective has value. We all come from completely different walks, and if we are lucky—they converge and we all become better for it. We are all evolving, hopefully, into better, more beneficial beings.

But back to information overload:

How do we find and filter the best information? Here’s where we get our hands dirty. We sift.

  • Decipher the title. Is this relevant content for me? (Even if it’s not, sometimes read it anyway).
  • Read the first and last sentence of the article. Often, you can find the main idea of the article as well as the conclusion.
  • Check the article for readability. One of the best ways to know if your information is “readable” is by looking at how the article is built. If it’s constructed of large paragraphs, it’s likely that the reader will have to mine for the information they are looking for. Sometimes it’s worth the dig. If it’s built with smaller paragraphs, it can be much more easily assimilated.
  • Scan the article. Things that make for good scanning are italics and bold type, as well as “empty spaces” where the author or editor sets apart a meaningful concept by giving it its own space. Lists and illustrations can be helpful to quickly glean information as well, however, poorly chosen illustrations can be confusing or distracting. If the article as a whole, lacks flow, you might consider looking for something more meaty.

Once we’ve found some good information, it’s a good idea to internalize it.

A lot of people don’t have a problem with this, but for those of us who do, here are a couple suggestions:

Take notes. Write the nuggets down. This serves to imprint on our brain so that it’s easier to recall. It’s even a good idea to save the notes to review later. Scan them a few times before discarding.
Speak the information out loud. Rephrase the information in your own words. This really forces you to own your info.

The last part is the most important part: We must give it away.

We can start pertinent dialogue with friends, co-workers and (non wild-eyed) strangers. Try to broach some lofty subjects, assuming that your partner in conversation can rise to the words you are bringing to the table. Nothing is more complementary to another person than when we assume he or she to be a completely rational, thinking human being, capable of having an intelligent discussion. We may find ourselves in the role of “gentle teacher” and by all means, we should assume the position.

We might even find ourselves growing into a better, more tolerant person at the same time.

We are building our worlds—together and independently, internally and externally, for better or worse.

Can we think and choose to use the information we’ve gathered to build a better world?





Author: Dawn Raymond

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Rayi Christianson Wicaksono at Unsplash 

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