The world being just a click away is indicative of a shift that technology delivers today.
Our ability to cut through time and break down geographical boundaries has made our interactions with people and information faster and virtually instantaneous.
But have we learned how to manage this abundance of information?
The concept of ‘information overload’, is associated with the digital age but in her book Too Much to Know, Ann M. Blair reveals the struggle with information management dates back to ancient cultures. It is not unique to the modern day and its challenges go beyond a race against time to filter, read, organise and file as much as we can.
We are continually lured by television, radio, newspapers, posts, tweets, emails, texts, feeds and with no break to their flow. This information bombardment triggers the conditions behind the urban term FOMO, ‘Fear Of Missing Out’, on information deemed critical to our survival.
We all have a fundamental need to belong and social media offers social inclusion. A need for belonging will always be an integral part of our survival but what determines our inclusion is a changing phenomenon. It is no surprise that the number of likes, comments, views or followers feeds into the social framework of our being, indicating for better or worse that we are liked and part of a wider community.
The notifications that light up our reward centers in the brain offer the frisson of a new possibility, experience or friend. The unpredictability of when that next notification will be stimulates the dopamine system and encourages us to check back frequently, especially when reinforcement is delivered at varying and unpredictable intervals of time.
While we understand the triggers underpinning our hyper-connective state, it’s important to learn the side effects too.
As it serves us to be in the know and to be socially accepted, the amygdala within the limbic system of our brain is there to scan and detect whether something could threaten our survival.
Constantly scanning our environments for potential threats or possibilities is stressful and can cause shorter attention spans, impatience, irritability, anxiety and sleep deprivation.
Our brains experience ‘cognitive overload’, which refers to the mental effort being used in the working memory. The author of Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload explains our brains struggle to organise the barrage of sensory data we receive, causing our nervous system to be over-stimulated. This hinders our ability to process information and think clearly. Also, the amount of choice we are faced with makes decisions more difficult and less satisfying.
So, how do we serve the innate needs within us while managing the psychological implications of having too many resources around us?
Reflected in teachings as ancient as Buddhism and as modern as Tolle’s Power of Now, there is wisdom in switching off.
The 17th century French Philosopher Blaise Pascal said: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”
We need to resist the urge to click, swipe and scroll in order to bring our awareness back to real time – back in the present and the space we are in and not where we think we should be. We all have a finite amount of time and energy. It takes discipline to prioritise wisely and resist temptations that perpetuate our thirst, rather than quench it.
Scheduling breaks from our devices and filtering the sources of information we tap into will reduce our stress and exposure to useless content. Practicing mindfulness and meditation will calm our nerves and centre us. Harnessing non-virtual and meaningful connections will feed our need for belonging. Finally, engaging in interests and activities that add value and enable a state of complete absorption and immersion can lead to improved performance and energised focus.
All these steps, require saying ‘no’ to some things, in order to say ‘yes’ to better things.
The value in these algorithm-based technologies lies in our ability to use them to our biorhythm’s advantage.
Maryam Ghouth is an accredited life coach and NLP Licensed Practitioner based between Dubai and London