Too Much Information

Ann by TVI was born in 1958, which means I was raised during a time when information wasn’t as accessible as it is today.  Our household had one television with four channels, one radio, and one telephone which we all shared.  There was no internet, no personal computers, and no one had a cell phone with the ability to call, text, email, and both take and share photos.  We got our news from daily newspapers and nightly newscasts, and we stayed in touch with faraway friends and family mostly through letters, because long-distance phone calls were expensive.  By today’s standards, we lived very isolated lives.

These days, we are constantly besieged with information.  Thanks to the internet, cable  TV and smart phones, we know instantly about every world conflict, the most recent public health scare, the current political scandal, the latest terrorist threat, the newest environmental crisis, and a whole list of other problems guaranteed to cause us nonstop worry and stress.  We are besieged with images of starving children, violent battles, flooding or droughts, abused animals and angry politicians, just to name a few.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I respond by trying to tune all of it out and just focusing on my own personal business, almost as if all these issues didn’t exist.  It’s not that I believe that they’ll go away if I ignore them, it’s just that I often feel overwhelmed by all the problems and the knowledge that I can’t even begin to understand, much less solve, them all.  It’s depressing, and I don’t particularly like being depressed.

But I know that’s not the answer.  I want to live my life to the fullest, and I know I can’t do that if I allow myself to withdraw from the world.  I don’t want to be uninformed about important issues, because I know that ignorance is not always bliss, and sometimes it’s downright dangerous.  Pretending that the problems of the world don’t exist also means that I don’t do my part, however small, to help make things better.

The answer, I think, is making an intentional decision to filter the information I receive, and to make choices about how I react to it.  I don’t have to let anyone else determine what I need to know or how I need to think and feel.  Technology guarantees that I will always be exposed to more information than I can possibly process, let alone respond to, and that’s okay.  But it’s up to me to decide what I want to dwell on, which issues I want to act on, and which issues I don’t.

I know there will still be times when I long for the days of my youth, when information about all the world’s problems tended to be served up in small and manageable packages.  But those times are gone, for better or for worse, and I remind myself that I really can handle the information age I now live in.  It just a matter of knowing where to draw the line.

31 thoughts on “Too Much Information

  1. I so agree Ann. I was born in much the same era where we didn’t have anywhere near the amount of information we have today. And whilst, like you, I think it’s good to be informed and not ignorant about what’s happening in our world, we do need to filter, otherwise it’s overload. Sometimes it’s good to just focus on our part of the world, where we really can make a difference and switch off for a while. However, it is here to stay and for the most part I wouldn’t want to go backwards. Great post.

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  2. I totally agree. I’m hoping someday I can help more, and there are some day I simply have to turn the radio off as that’s where I get my information on daily news. It’s overload as most of the news seems bad. The internet can be a beautiful thing hooking us up with folks we would never have met…but it can also be a curse, as you say, constantly bombarding us making us feel like the whole big, bad world is at our door step ready to fall apart. It’s depressing and overwhelming. In a book I read about sorrow and grief rituals, the author said he felt that addiction is in part due to how depressed and sad we are—I feel it’s in part d/t all the information we hold about all the bad stuff we hear constantly. It is for me anyway. I often feel sad and helpless….

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    • I think it’s hard not to feel sad and helpless sometimes. We know about more problems that we can possibly fix, and that’s just plain overwhelming. That’s why I think we just have to actively manage the information we receive. Or at least that’s what I try to do…I admit that some days I’m better at it than others!

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  3. I find it very difficult to be of any use outside my own sphere these days as I have little energy for the essentials of my own life let alone others’ lives, but I stay aware of the world outside myself. And I agree with you that there is too much information coming our way. I reach burn-out too easily so while I don’t close myself off to it completely, I do limit the amount I’ll let in. That often means not looking at news sites daily, but doing a weekly catch up and being careful what sources I use, and most certainly it means staying off social media sites for periods of time when some of the worst things are happening.

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  4. First, that’s an adorable picture..:)
    I so agree with you here, as I usually do. I feel like there’s a sensory overload issue sometimes when I turn on television or read about he news. If the television co ESPN in the morning I have to hear about stabbings, shootings or some form of depressing heartache. First thing in the morning? It’s not that I don’t feel for everything those people are going through, it’s just that I don’t want to start my day like this. But there’s is no escape. Sometimes we just need to turn it all off and decompress.

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    • Thanks, George! Remember when TVs looked like that? And I agree…we aren’t cut out to process so much bad news all day long! I have a nasty habit of turning my TV on first thing in the morning, which almost always guarantees a bad start to my day, unless I keep it tuned to something as mindless as HGTV. Sometimes I do just ignore everything tech and spend a little time reading a good book. It does wonders for my attitude!

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  5. I feel guilty at times because I don’t want, or have the energy, to deal with the plethora of world events presented to me on a minute by minute basis. I know I live a blessed and privileged life which makes me feel even more guilty when I decide to ignore the news story or the the homeless person begin as I emerge from the market, or not tp donate to the cause dejour advertised to me on the TV or internet.

    I too long, in some ways, for the simplicity and bliss of ignorance. The ignorance of youth and of the times when instant communication and news wasn’t constantly in my face and I had no reason to feel guilty on a moment by moment basis. I have a friend who recently told me, “Mike – you can’t just buy Cheese Its these days. There are too many choices. There’s the cracked wheat version, the jalipino version, low fat, jumbo”, etc. etc. etc. Too many choices and too much information makes our lives less simple and more labor intensive. But that’s the “old fart” in me speaking. Life is good, I am blessed, and we evolve for better or worse.

    Thanks for another thought provoking post. Now if I could only decide which of the 120 channels on cable I will fall asleep too… 🙂

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    • Exactly! The problem is there is too much information coming at us, all the time. It makes us feel guilty for having a decent life when we are constantly reminded that others are suffering, and we aren’t always able to keep up with the latest cause or feel indignant about the latest outrage. And after a while, the constant guilt just makes us want to tune it all out. That’s why I really have come to the conclusion that we need to be our own filters. That way, we are sure to still do our part to help where we can, but we also allow ourselves not to try to carry the weight of the whole darn world on our shoulders, because all that does is make us want to withdraw. I don’t think it’s because we’re old farts, I think it’s just because we’re humans! (although in my case, I’m also an old fart!) Thanks for the comment!

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  6. I have gone through the same thing. I have begun to read more often. I realized I had gotten way way away from my normal reading time. I also have made the decision that Friday (at least starting at night) through until Monday morning, I do not turn on the news. If I do it’s because I know something important is going on. You would be amazed what wonders taking three days away from the news does for one’s psyche. And, personally, I kind of miss the days of letter writing. Not to mention the days when people would actually reply. Nowadays all this technology not only cuts down on face-to-face communication, but it had greatly decreased communication as a whole. it’s amazing to me how many people just don’t bother replying to a test or email. I miss the good ole days when communication meant actually talking.

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  7. I try to follow events as best I can, but I find it more difficult than I once did. I do find the news depressing, and there are certain kinds of stories I can’t bear to read about or watch in any detail. I can’t say I ever really took a conscious decision to concentrate on the problems in my own life, though. It’s more that the problems in my own life simply happened and demanded attention. I think it may be that way for many people. My guess is that one big reason why students are so often associated with political activism, for example, is simply that students more often have the time to do it.

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    • Sadly, there are times when I’ve made the intentional decision just to ignore it all, because I find myself feeling so hopeless and overwhelmed. But I try not to do that too often, or for too long. And I agree, students are so often politically active simply because they have the time to do it, and aren’t weighed down with family and work obligations just yet. And I think things seem more “black and white” at that stage of our life, too, since we haven’t had enough experiences to see how complex issues really can be just yet. Or at least I know I was far more sure of exactly what was right and what was wrong when I was young!

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      • It has certainly been true in my case that having a bit of life experience behind me means I tend to be more aware of the many grey areas than I was when I was younger. I think this is probably quite a common reaction. I’ve also learned to dampen my expectations of political leaders. Even those who have the best of intentions often find themselves hemmed in and with limited room for maneuver when it comes to actually governing. After all, the easy solutions to problems have usually been tried already. That only leaves the more complex, less certain ones.

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        • Exactly! The candidates all say they will fix everything, easily and quickly, if only we elect them. But I’m always thinking, “if it were that easy, don’t you think it would have been done already?” Because let’s face it, if either party actually delivered peace and prosperity, they’d win every single election by a landslide. I agree that it helps to keep our expectations realistic, whether we like the candidate or not.

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  8. Compared to today’s information overload, we did get the news in small, manageable bits back then. Maybe that’s why we remember that era as the “Happy Days.” Great post, Ann!

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  9. I was born in the late 1980s and my family didn’t have so much money, we didn’t have a tv till I was two and I remember never being much fond of the TV but ever since Internet and computers came into existance I have been spending a lot of time on it. Two years ago I had quite facebook for a year since I didn’t want to be part of it at all. It’s still the same. Everyone posting pictures and talking about their lives, topping each other up at everything , news and fashion etc, I feel so out of place.
    So I don’t care about it now. Now I just spend my time doing things I like and have fun. I still feel like I am born in wrong era.. haha

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