The information overload of the modern world. The consequences of that. Dealing with it. That’s what this article is about. As I write it, I experience the phenomenon first hand. Notes are piling up on my desk. Post-its frame my monitor. I am overstimulated and overloaded with information. Incoming emails distract me. In the digital age have every piece of information I’ve researched in the past three weeks doesn’t just seem worth mentioning, but important.
Important! When I’m in the forest with the dog, my thoughts bubble. When they arrive at the computer, they’re gone. I don’t have an appointment on my back, but I still feel driven. It has to be faster. Piling! – Mail. Do I really have all the information? Google says there are 129,723 more hits. Only for this catchphrase. Maybe I’d better check the next page of results. Only across.
I got lost in the flood of information about information overload.
That is the problem today. Too much of everything – only we are evolutionarily the same people who have admired the telegraph, the light bulb, and the steam engine. Our brain and our processing mechanisms are not yet able to cope with the abundance of information in the digital age, the speed of the world, and the expansion of our horizons. Man becomes a stimulus-reflex machine and procrastination becomes a mechanism that accompanies and allegedly facilitates our everyday life.
The world in your pocket
Even 250 years ago, a large part of the world, its inhabitants, and their knowledge were hidden from us. Our attention was directed to our immediate surroundings and the people who moved in them. Our lives, the number of people involved and the possibilities all fit into our field of vision.
The mail came by carriage, the news from the region and knowledge from the people in our area or from the library. Information from a great distance reached us with a graceful delay. Time was the measure of distance and relevance: the longer it took for information about us, the higher the probability that it was irrelevant to us and our lives. The world was manageable and understandable and ended just over the horizon.
Today airplanes take us to places in hours that we would previously have taken weeks or not at all. We receive information in digital age from all over the world almost in real-time. Cell phone snapshots spread within minutes on social networks and draw us into unknown lives and distant disasters.
In the eyes of the social norm, those who miss a message are in the wrong networks – or not attentive enough. The Internet makes every piece of information immediately available in thousands of versions.
It is no longer the real people alone who sit with us over coffee. The rest of the world is on the table in front of us on the smartphone. A regular look at the display assures us of their presence and our own importance in their structure. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and countless news services, we not only receive immediate reports from friends and events around the world, but we also take part in the lives of completely unknown people.
The modern world is limitless in every dimension. We bridge time and space. Any place can be reached, any information available, the possibilities are endless, the speed is immense. We are globally networked. Everyone knows each other over an average of 6.6 corners. It only seems to be 3.5 for Facebook users.
However, in terms of evolution, we are still at the level of small groups, whose world ends just over the horizon.
The brave new world reaches into our brains
In addition to the information and stimuli that demand our conscious attention, there is the background noise of the modern world – the thousands upon thousands of stimuli that our brain processes unnoticed in the background so that we neither stumble over a curb nor run into a car.
Many highly sensitive people are very aware of this actually subconscious perception. In contrast to the normally sensitive, they register the noise, the flashing lights, and the changing smells of the passers-by. The free capacity of their conscious attention is thereby additionally impaired.
The permanent flood of information takes its toll. The capacity of the human brain is limited. If you overload it in one place, it may no longer work properly in other places.
The human attention span in 2010 was 12 seconds. In 2015 it was only 8.25 seconds. You are happy that breathing is a reflex. A goldfish takes 9 seconds. He doesn’t have a smartphone yet. His world still ends at the small plastic lock.
The quick kick of the quick reaction
The lost person seeks his salvation in virtual confirmation. Facebook likes work like cocaine and incoming emails confirm how important it is. Our brain’s reward system calls for an immediate news check. On average, we check our emails 30 times. Per hour.
The omnipresent stimuli and the modern multitasking maxim address a system in the brain that has evolved to enable us to survive in the savannah.
This savannah mode, as the Freiburg psychosomaticism Joachim Bauer calls it, puts us today in a permanent state of stress that is objectively not needed. The biggest drama about this is that savannah mode blocks the higher centers of the brain.
The higher evaluation centers lie fallow
Humans are so preoccupied with reacting quickly to stimuli and information that their brains are unable to assess what is worth reacting to and what is actually important for them and their lives. This makes it almost impossible to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.
On the one hand, this is due to the volatility with which we consume information; on the other hand, the brain’s reward system also plays a role here. “Just one more click. Only one page left. ”It’s Häwelmann’s“ More! ”That lets us plunge deeper and deeper into the flood of information.
We are not up to the endless possibilities and decision-making paths that this opens up for us. What information do I believe? Which way is it taking me? Is that the right direction? What is the consequence of a wrong decision or a decision at all? Too often we choose to collect even more information and remain non-binding.
Since our brain does not find time to evaluate the information and make its own decision here either, we prefer to google for the decisions and experiences of others.
Instead of dealing with what has already accumulated in our heads, we use the short breaks in our life to escape into the virtual flood of information.
The overloaded brain – after Z comes F
Since the brain and the person are inextricably linked, overloading the brain inevitably leads to overloading the person. The ICD-10, an international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems, endeavors to record all diseases and to capture them in diagnosis codes.
In the last few decades, he has enjoyed subtle adaptations and extensions in the area of overload symptoms.
Translated into sterile acronyms, they are easier to stamp on the forehead of those affected. Internationally standardized, of course.
Despite the alphabetical logic, the diagnosis codes, unfortunately, say nothing more than that an order has been created, the systematic of which one can argue about. This does not help those affected. Then, what medicine does not yet want to admit in its full scope can be found under the key Z93 “Problems relating to difficulties in coping with life”.
A potpourri of diagnostic paraphrases for the victims of the achievement society. The transition to the first part of the alphabetical key is smoother and shorter than the classification of the ICD-10 would lead you to believe: after Z comes F – preferably in the 30s and 40s, in which depression, anxiety, and stress syndromes are dealt with.
15 to 20% of the total population are highly sensitive. In psychotherapeutic practices, however, according to estimates by Elaine Aron and some of her colleagues, their share is around 50%. High sensitivity as an essential feature has perhaps never been more noticeable than in the last 20 years.
Highly sensitive people try to keep pace in a world in which even normally sensitive people stumble because they have reached the end of their stimulus tolerance.
Anyone who, as a highly sensitive person, has not learned to accept this peculiarity in their personality and how to deal with it or has not even recognized it so far, is desperate for themselves and for living up to the maxims of the performance society. And inevitably ends up on the couch.
The higher speed and the myriad of information and stimuli make the gap between the perception of highly sensitive and normally sensitive people clearer.
The whole world wants to be noticed
The bottom line is that modern people lack calm and grounding. We are no longer able to process the wealth of information that surrounds us. We get the message that we can achieve everything, know everything, and be moved by everything. As a result, we are ultimately affected by everything.
If a forest fire threatens numerous villages and human lives in China, it is unquestionably terrible – but here and now and of no consequence for my life.
We wouldn’t even have found out 100 years ago. Today, photos of the victims suggest to our brain that we were there.
Highly sensitive people not only have to process this subjectively irrelevant information, but they also suffer from the fate of others.
How do you overcome the flood of information in the digital age and the pace of society?
The most important goal is to provide the assessment center of our brain with the resources it needs for its work. We have to try to reduce our horizon so much that it fits into our field of vision again. Only in this way can our brain decide which stimuli and which information are actually relevant.
We have already got used to the term “ deceleration ”, but it has so far lacked meaning. Promise a permanent way out among other things:
- Relaxation techniques
There are numerous guides to each of these coping strategies. It remains significant, however, that these decelerators have been partially optimized for speed reading.
5 “small” life hacks that make dealing with the flood of information easier
Since not everyone is able to relocate their work and private life to a less stimulating environment in the digital age, many cannot escape the hustle and bustle of today’s society. If it is possible for the normally sensitive to fade out the inevitable stimulus burden, it noticeably draws a large part of the free resources away from the highly sensitive. It is all the more important to control the stimulus load that can be controlled.
Tip 1 – Reduce the information channels
Eliminate any service that you don’t really need. Unsubscribe from all newsletters that you delete immediately anyway. Also, take a critical look at your contacts. Which Facebook friends do you have just because you haven’t found the courage to send a friendly rejection?
Your Twitter timeline … Hand on heart, how many of those you follow are you actually following? Eliminate contacts that burden you rather than enrich you.
Tip 2 – Define time slots
It takes your brain about 15 minutes to prepare for a task. Every time you check your emails or look at the display of the cell phone, you are distracted from your current activity of the digital age and have to re-think yourself. Bundle the information check into a fixed time slot and do not allow your cell phone to tempt you with a “Pling!”
Tip 3 – Separate private and professional channels
If all messages are received on the same device, it is hardly possible to ignore business messages after work. Switch off business communications in the digital age after work and on weekends.
Tip 4 – latency
Make yourself aware that you don’t have to react immediately to every email, SMS, or call. Use the advantages of modern communication in the digital age. You can also let a phone ring.
Tip 5 – the news relevance check
News is cruel and stressful. As a highly sensitive person, you are not only shocked, you are literally affected. Write the messages that are upsetting you on a piece of paper and write down a number next to it that symbolizes the extent to which your own life is objectively affected, whether it would have made a difference if you had not received this message.
My notes and papers. They help me find a structure. As a breakwater in the flood of information in the digital age. My preferred strategy for years.
Working on this article made me realize that my mechanisms are starting too late. I have to stop the tide before it comes. And swim a little more against the current of social conventions. Noah appeared at the last great flood.