Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Information Indigestion

Information overload is the new Alzheimer’s. It makes us fuzzy-headed and mentally bloated. It feels like a bellyache in the brain. We stuff ourselves, day and night, at the All You Can Eat Info Buffet. We are glutted with mental stimulation, luring us with its delicious aromas of fun, friendship, news, games, and get-rich schemes. There’s more information to digest in a day than most of us used to swallow in a month, maybe even a year. If someone can invent an Alka-Seltzer for the mind, that genius will be laughing all the way to the bank.

At least once I week, I think I have entered senility early, a prospect that is very worrisome to a baby boomer. The symptoms: I have misplaced yet another important piece of paper or lost track of some file, on- or off-line. I’m constantly asking people to re-send things or tell me something over again. (I know we have a close working relationship when I’m no longer too embarrassed to ask.) I used to track so well. Now I forget names and details. Where did they go?

If the Industrial Revolution changed our lives, the Information Revolution is changing how we live and process data more than any paradigm shift in recorded history. Supposedly, we use only a paltry percentage of our brains. That’s not only embarrassing to me, anymore; it’s a handicap. The need to process more information faster has me doing daily mind aerobics—word games and puzzles to stoke the fire of my synapses. I’m bent on shaking up a few memory cells and leaping around cyberspace more limber and muscular in my gray matter.

Even the brightest people are having a hard time handling the bombardment on all sides by info, info, info. You’ve probably heard the initials TMI. A couple of decades ago, it sadly stood for Three Mile Island and a terrible nuclear disaster. Now when someone says TMI, it means Too Much Information. The meltdown is a state I call Advanced Overwhelm.

We are not losing it. Now that we have computers, which, after all, are modeled after our own brains, the analogy is easy. We have just run out of RAM! (Would someone please put out a missing person’s report on my Random Access Memory?) By the time we’ve lived three or four, much less five to seven decades, the part of our brains that retrieves stored data and makes all the programs work is nearly full. We need an upgrade!

At the rate info is flying into our lives, we have to store and retrieve it at speeds we never have known before. We’re still operating like antiquated 286 computer, that relic clunker we plunked on before we even used a mouse and everyone was on the Internet. Our machines run at gigahertz speeds so fast, our brains can barely fire in the same range. Am I the only one who’s a little creeped out by this? Remember “2001, A Space Odyssey” and how HAL, the computer, attempted to sabotage and take over the mission?

We are now bionic. Computers are extensions of our minds. But we have to let our heads catch up with this break-neck evolution. (Is this why my neck hurts so much, so often?) We are being overwhelmed with voice mail, e-mail, faxes—websites, fancy phones that integrate this entire communications smorgasbord—and, yes, blogs, Tweets, Face Bookings and more! Ah, for the good old days when there was lag time. (Remember letters? Days to arrive and no one expected an answer for a week or two.)

Now that everything is instantaneous, we expect each other to do 100 more things, right now, all at once. All those requests and communiqués in your face … all those senders knowing you got it right away. No wonder we’re stressed out. Truth is, most emergencies—unless you happen to work as a 911 dispatcher—are of our own making. We are so impatient. Sometimes I feel like we’ve regressed back to the toddler stage when it comes to social graces. Gimme, gimme—want it now!

A new and improved high-tech species will only evolve out of the latest revolution if we exercise our minds a lot, lower our expectations a little, and remember what happens when a system tries to do more than it’s built for—it crashes. Before we have a collective nervous breakdown, go meditate and/or do something mindless ... and remember well-rounded people who play as hard as they work are the most creative and productive. And when we get those extra moments to rethink things a little, bear in mind that “information is not knowledge,” one of the great catchphrases of the New Millennium.

Last but not least, if you can’t slow down and simplify … if Advanced Overwhelm gets the best of you, take an Info-Seltzer and call in sick in the morning … then turn off the TV, computer, cell phone, handheld, and all the communications gismos and listen to yourself think. You might be amazed at how this low-tech, retro practice can heighten spirits and your put your brain back in gear!


Photo Credit: BUBBLING MEDICINE, © Wizdaz Dreamstime.com


Beverly Mahone said...


There is so much information OVERLOAD out here that I have just decided I have no desire to keep up with it all.

I admire people who do though but I'm perfectly content not to raise my I.Q. :)

Karen O'Bannon said...

Silence truly is a good remedy. Occasionally, I do have to turn everything off and listen to myself. That's about the only way I can catch up with my thoughts. It's amazing how much information there is.

Eileen Williams said...

Boy--do you have that one right!!!
Thank goodness I'm old enough to only have one foot on the information super train. The other is still back resting on the 20th century platform of landline phones and paper. Nevertheless, I frequently feel stretched as I'm being pulled in both directions. Keep up or wither into old age seems to be the message. Yikes!
But I'm going to follow your suggestion and promise myself several minutes of inner peace on a regular basis. After all, I'm old enough to know better. Thanks for the reminder!!!

PopArtDiva said...

Joyce - you have put some serious thought and time into this blog post. You have also made some very pertinent points and heightened awareness of the amount of brain power we invoke when we create websites, blogs and even such simple endeavors as a Twitter or Facebook profile.

I have often tried to point out to those just beginning the use of computers - "No, despite what has been indicated to you, computers are not instantaneous - not can they read your mind. Now, quit hitting that button over and over again and practice some patience! Computers, like people all work at different speeds!"

Like computers we too need to reboot every once in a while, sometimes we even need a hardware or software upgrade to work properly. The best reboot for humans would seem to be a little bit of fresh air, exercise, interaction with real people and some quiet moments alone.

What a wonderful post, what a great perspective on the high tech world we live in. You have done yourself proud today.

Mispoetic said...

Far out Joyce, you have tapped into an energy that is indeed,booming!

I for one find to keep up, I need to be one step ahead?? Thus making the workload sometimes even a little more daunting.

I don't know why I do it, but find if i am doing 'nothing', I'm wasting time. Like Karen, have begun listening to the inner Debbie, allowing her the right, to relax,trouble is, when my laptop is off, my mind is still going?!{Hence your description:
"We are now bionic. Computers are extensions of our minds.")

It is always thinking of other ideas for the next time it is turned on! Being born on a 'cusp' HAS to have something to do with my ongoing inner struggle??? lol

Melodieann said...

Having been dragged somewhat reluctantly into the world of computers, cell phones, blogs and whatnot (I have only been on Twitter 2 weeks!), I understand completely the whole concept of overload. I swore I would never embrace all of this technology. There just wasn't anything that important I needed to know. Now I find myself having Twitter withdrawal if I don't check in regularly. Email is an obsessively, compulsively checked every few minutes. And God forbid that I should lose my cell phone. Unfortunately, having access to all of this information does not mean effectively handling it - as testified to by the several of you who are still waiting for me to answer an email, voicemail, or Tweet! All I can plead is OVERWHELM!

Michelle said...

Wonderful blog and I love your blog name. Suddenly Hot Flashes sound like the ultimate must-have mature woman's fashion accesory. ;-)

I am finding myself overloading on info... my brain feels fried some days (and then I go and join twitter? What was I thinking! LOL )

I am a trivial info junkie, plus I love meeting new people, so I never stood a chance of not becoming addicted to the internet. The main problem (beyond the fact regular house cleaning has become more mythical than a unicorn in my house) is the fact that being online has expanded my butt more than my mind!

Now if only we could burn off calories with hot flashes...

Joyce Mason said...

Michelle, I read your Comment with great amusement. My house may be a mess, but I'm "connected" the world over! I openly admit to my Internet addiction. I'd be happy to keep it in perspective and my info fixes in balance, the equivalent of a social drinker. :) That's my goal. What's a curious mind to do?