For the past few months I’ve had the notion rattling around in my head to blog on this subject. I doubt that it will add much to the overall debate or come even close to offering a solution to the problem, but at least I have declared my concern and feel all the better for it.
My grandmother, on more than one occasion that I recall as a youngster, reminded me that moderation was good in all things, even when something was good for you.
And so it is: Which brings me to my topic.
When I began my social media journey with Twitter back in mid-2009 I had a small handful of people to follow, perhaps 10 or so. I would eagerly devour the 140 character snippets that arrived periodically throughout the day with links to all manner of new and interesting topics.
In my mind I see social media, in particular Twitter, as a kind of intellectual hallway lined with doors. Behind each is a topic that someone I follow has carefully selected for me. I can open each door and go through to a whole new world.
Initially the hallway was small, the doors few, and I could leisurely step through each one and ponder the subject that had been placed there for me. However, as the number of people I follow has increased I’ve found the hallway has become substantially longer and the number of doorways grown incredibly. Yet behind each doorway is still a carefully selected snippet for my interest.
The unfortunate thing is that now I find myself with insufficient time to take in and digest all this information. Like some character in a Lewis Carroll story I find myself running down that hallway, opening and closing doors, and thinking “Yes that’s interesting, I’ll come back to that”, but never actually do.
This has led me to feel that it’s too much of a good thing and although very little of what I get via Twitter these days is valueless, there’s simply too much information to process and digest.
“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking” – Albert Einstein
I know it’s not just me. In late November 2010, ironically via Twitter, I received a link to an article in The Boston Globe entitled “Information overload, the early years“. It was a somewhat cheering article on this very issue and even more fascinating was that this wasn’t the first time in history that people had bemoaned a deluge of information. I won’t précis the article here but it seems we’ve entered yet another era where excessive information has become an issue.
Thankfully as the article suggests, solutions eventually came that made it possible to organise, calatogue, sort, search, and file printed material. We’re starting to see the same in this era of digital information but in the meantime we’ll have to find our own ways to manage the increasing deluge.
The first step I’ll be taking is to tell myself it’s alright not to read everything for fear of missing out. I’m a great believer in serendipity, so whatever I need I suspect I will stumble across again at some point in the future.
I also plan to avoid adding to the problem by exercising moderation in what I tweet and retweet. Martijn Linssen after a converation on his blog came up with a wonderful flowchart that I plan to follow as much as possible.
One thing I have been encouraged by is the greater opportunity to utilise my spare time through mobile technology. Since exchanging my old cellphone for an Android smartphone I have found it’s much easier to utilise previously empty moments to catch up on my reading. The jury is still out on whether this is a good thing long-term.