Find it difficult to concentrate? Feel as though you're never quite up to speed? Well, the likely cause could be “data smog”―a phenomenal created by the increasing volume and velocity of information pounding our brain every waking second via radio, TV, computer, fax, cell phone, and e-mail. In a survey of 1,300 managers, more than half asserted that the torrent of information coming at them diminished their job satisfaction and even strained their personal relationships.
As information becomes cheaper and easier to acquire and transmit, data smog promises to grow thicker and harder to escape. Information is of course, a wonderful thing. But too much too fast can spoil contemplation, interrupt conversation, and distract us from reading. It can also drown out skepticism and critical thinking. Information, like calories, may be unhealthy in large doses.
One way to tackle the problem is to go on a “data fast”: Carve out a period in your day or week and declare it “information-free.” Instead of turning on the TV or surfing the Internet, sit down in a quiet room for 10 or 15 minutes. You can take a real vacation only so often, but daydreaming allows you to enjoy a cerebral vacation anytime you need a break. Whether you follow traditional meditation techniques or just let your mind wander, you're bound to feel less stressed and more in control.
You can also exercise more control over your information intake. When your cell phone becomes more of an annoyance than a convenience, turn it off and savor the freedom of being temporarily unconnected. If your e-mail is piling up, ask to have your name removed from the mailing list. Or set aside a part of your work day to be computer-free. When it comes to fostering creativity, paper is still a marvelous tool.
The information revolution, with its many benefits and drawbacks, is here to stay. But we need not embrace every effect the new technologies have on our lives. Data fasting is one way to respond to the luxurious problem of our civilization’s latest surplus.