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Information Overload

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - April 2023

Newsletter - 4.23
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“If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the #$&*%^ window and find out which is true.” – Journalism Tutor

Do you find yourself caught up in the pervasive, “in-your-face” stream of information (and misinformation) that defines today’s world? The supply is seemingly endless: TV, YouTube, internet, AI, all manner of social media. But our demand seems just as endless … as if we’d somehow be missing out on “real life” if we weren’t up to date … with number of friends, number of likes, or number of posts … or with the latest “news,” the latest episodes, etc.

Yet overload alone isn’t the big problem. Neither, in a way, is misinformation. We could stop, step back, maybe even tune out, and regain perspective … on ourselves, and on the truth. The problem is we don’t do that. We’re so easily attracted to, or distracted by, this continuous deluge that we consume more of it … even when we know we’re on overload. And it’s in the “more” that we lose our grasp on reality. How so?

We’d swear we’re simply “choosing to be informed,” but in so doing, we miss the fact that overload is heard by the unconscious mind as a danger signal, a threat. So like “fight or flight” response in nature, we go into defense mode, trying to process the dangers and restore “safety.” But the unconscious can’t keep up, because we keep consuming! The conscious mind could easily get us out of the mess … except it has been put on hold by instinct response. If life’s situations don’t give us time to think, we won’t. Actually, we can’t! Trapped in the grasp of other people’s thinking, we lose connection with our own. Yet we’d deny this is so.

The purveyors of misinformation get this. Without accountability, they get that if they put out a fake story, make it scary, repeat it often at high volume, then offer a “certain” solution, we’ll be easily (read that: unconsciously) attracted to that instead. Yet all the while we’ll claim we’re “thinking.” This is how we fall for conspiracy theories.

Things may have been easier back in the days when the Pony Express was the vehicle for delivering information. By the time information had reached its destination, falsehoods had likely fallen off the pony. Today’s constant “pushing” of information (trueor false), however, inhibits our ability to process it as we go. What we need most in the midst of it all is simply to … stop for long enough … to be with what we hear for long enough … to use the power of conscious thought … to regain perspective … so as to distinguish fact from fiction … and re-center ourselves.

In a world, and in lives, that depend on a flow of [valid] information, it may be unrealistic to check out, even for a day (although I highly recommend it). But if we don’t learn to separate from it all and regain the power to think critically, our fear-based mind will keep us stuck in this mess forever. Far more realistic would be to purposefully develop a “consciousness toolbox” that allows us to keep things in perspective as they happen, and thereby make up our own minds as to the significance – including truth or fiction – of all that passes by.

Learning to do this depends only on conscious awareness, not on level of intellect, or on knowing all about a topic. (Carl Sagan once noted we seem to be able to handle sports statistics pretty well, yet then claim we can’t handle science or math. That problem lives in our heads, not in the information.) Conscious awareness is available to everyone (even Marjory Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, should they ever so choose to let go of their willful ignorance). What it takes is regular, quiet, on purpose reflection of what’s truly going on in your mind. The clarity you gain with such practice spills over into every part of your life, freeing you from a “whole lot of useless stuff” along the way. You may not be able to stop the incessant flow of information; and you may not be able to stop the prevalence of misinformation; and you may not be able to “check out” or no longer consume; but you can change your relationship with all these things. Your stress will likely thank you … as may many of your friends.

Exercise: Stop consuming and start listening: No, not forever. Not even for a week. Not even for a day. But for 15 minutes – every day. The only way to gain the clarity of mind required to (1) find personal balance in the midst of overload, and (2) know to distinguish fact from fiction (or even if something is meaningful to you) … is, as noted in the article, to … stop for long enough … to be with what you hear for long enough … to use the power of conscious thought … to regain perspective … so as to distinguish fact from fiction … and re-center yourself. The idea here is to listen, not to the incessant flow of information from outside, but to the way your mind is processing the incessant flow. It’s about becoming the observer of your life, not just participant. And that’s something you need to do “on purpose,” perhaps through a daily appointment with yourself, creating a time that’s intentionally separate from the daily flow of life, a time where you are in charge of you, consciously, rather than the world being in charge of you, unconsciously.

During 15 minutes of quiet time each day, replay in your mind events from the past day, this time simply noticing – now – how your mind responded – then – with the intention of learning (not judging or changing) how your mind interprets the world. You may be surprised. For example, you might notice how what you thought was your thinking was indeed just an unconscious fear response … and how you may have “run down the street” with the event (unknowingly, of course) instead of working to understand what was happening.

As you get better noticing, you might add questions about the specific events of the day. These questions most often go unasked, which contributes to being overloaded, and to being misinformed. Does this info make sense to me? (A completely unscientific question that bounces the idea off all you know to be true). How does it mesh with the rest of my life experiences? Is there evidence ,,, for the claim? against the claim? (A more “scientific” question, but without need to understand it all. Just name evidence for and against … then ask if the evidence makes sense to you). Based on what and how you learn here, make up questions of your own to add clarity to your thinking.

Life Lessons from Nature: Much of the information overload we experience, and nearly all of the misinformation overload we experience, prey on our emotional response. One reason that’s so successful at getting us riled up is that we’re often disconnected from, or unaware of, our emotions … and how they impact our choices, so we’re caught reacting without knowing why or how. I’ve found that being in nature – just for the value of being there – helps me to both understand my emotional context as well as keep it in proper perspective. There’s a difference between having emotions (natural, human response) and becoming your emotions (an often-destructive choice, made unconsciously). In nature, we find consequences (every action in nature has a consequence), yet what we don’t find is judgment, the driving force behind emotions. Just listening to and observing nature’s way helps us to distinguish between the two, with the “lesson” having direct impact in our everyday lives. Go sit; listen.

Book of the month:The Fifth Agreement, by don Miguel Ruiz and don Jose Ruiz. A bit of an oldie, perhaps, yet it’s filled with perennial wisdom, so needed in our world today. If you’ve read it, consider a re-reading, absorbing to even deeper levels. They offer a “re-do” on the original Four Agreements and add another: Be skeptical but learn to listen. “You learn if something is true for you by questioning it, then listening to your answer. This helps shift you from judgment to discernment, the opening to wisdom. Question with respect. You can hide out from other people, but you can’t hide out from your own judgment. When you question your story, you reclaim the power it once held over you.”


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