I was morbidly infobese…

… until I went on an info-diet and curbed my infobesity. I’ve only learned the term infobesity recently, as you would expect it was coined to mean a variety of things, but it typically describes an  over-consumption of information.

A few months ago, probably coinciding with becoming a Dad for the first time, I realised I was bloating on highly addictive info-calories. Situations like this were all too familiar, and only served to compound the problem:

April 06, 2003

I had much less time in the day to keep up with the information fire-hose, which for me could be roughly categorised as email, social media and RSS feeds. I presumed that unless I took some action, this situation would degenerate into chaos.

The pervasiveness of information and interactive systems, combined with the presumed societal acceptance of constant interruptions from information flows, makes it very easy to binge on information. This combination of high availability and high reward value makes information addictive.

The effects are obvious, you just have to travel on the commuter trains in and out of London to notice that over half of the travellers are glued to some form of ereader, tablet, smartphone, free newspaper or even an old fashioned paperback. Not even a greeting or a smile is exchanged.

Unlike Johnny 5, we’re not cut out to be “chrome-breasted info eaters”. There is some research being carried out to test whether there are physical and/or cognitive condition in humans that can result from the over-consumption of information.  I suspect these effects will eventually have an impact on the overall health and well-being of individuals, and in turn, on communities and corporations.

There has to be an easier way to manage “more input, more input!”. Information overload has been around since the introduction of the printing press; this is not a new problem. It has just evolved by the technology that enables it, so I need to use the same such technology to manage it.

To paraphrase Clay Shirky, mine is a case of filter failure not information overload. I needed to make the best use of my time and add filters to those information sources with the best nutritional value.

The rise of the Internet has reduced the economic risks of publishing by allowing more and more information to be published at almost no cost. This means it’s increasingly important for us to create better filters. Having access to information is great, but we need to filter and focus based on what we want to accomplish and what we need.  Although not ground-breaking by any means, here are some of the steps that I have taken so far to curb my information sources and tweak my information filters to become more manageable:

  1. I kept an infobesity diary in a spreadsheet (naturally), much like you would when dieting
  2. I eliminated sources of data with low info nutrition by:
    1. Relentlessly unsubscribing and/or blocking unwanted email (this is time consuming, but very effective)
    2. Cleaning up and consolidating RSS subscriptions
    3. Culling those that I “follow” in Social Media to a manageable amount (worth reading Jim Stogdill’s view on this activity here)
  3. I reduced impulsive / leisure browsing by time-boxing this activity to certain times of the day e.g. during train journeys and when up in the middle of the night trying to soothe my daughter to sleep
  4. I rationalised my information streams and tailored my filters, by:
    1. Striving to maintain zero inboxes for all email accounts (this has had by far the biggest impact on reducing my stress levels)
    2. Improving my follow-up / to-do list process
    3. Subscribing to remaining RSS & SM feeds in Flipboard

The results so far have been liberating, in that I have more free time and less information noise to distract me. Although I’m not finished yet, like when following any diet I will have to remain vigilant. There’s no point in bingeing at the first opportunity I get (i.e. my next holiday).

Please feel free to add any of your favourite hints and tips in the comments, I’m all ears!


1 thought on “I was morbidly infobese…

  1. Pingback: Getting to “Inbox-Zero” and staying there… | donalpsmith

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