Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Information Overload

As I find myself some weeks spending not as much time with the newspaper, switching from NPR or other news sources to the local jazz station, or consciously avoiding lengthy discussions with others about current events, Kathleen Parker's column in today's Washington Post strikes a chord.

In "Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In," Parker asks, "What if everybody just took a timeout?"

"Now there's a concept for a [Too-Much-Information]-addled nation. It isn't only Too Much Information, but the pitch and tenor of delivery that have us in a persistent state of psychic frenzy. From cable news to microblogs to the latest -- "Fox Nation" -- life's background music has become one prolonged car alarm. "

Parker continues, "with so much data coming from all directions, we risk paralysis. Brain freeze, some call it. More important, we also risk losing our ability to process the Big Ideas that might actually serve us better. It isn't only Jack and Jill who are tethered to the Twittering masses, after all. Our thinkers at the highest levels are, too....

"[B]rain research shows that we do our best thinking when we're not engaged and focused, yet fewer of us have time for downtime....

"More likely, the ideas that save the world will present themselves in the shower or while we're sweeping the front stoop. What the world needs now isn't more, but less. The alternative to mindless activities for the mindful is turning out to be not a less-informed nation but a dumber one.

"Unchecked "infomania" -- yes, there's even a term for this instapathology -- can lead to a lower IQ, according to a 2005 Hewlett-Packard study. The research, conducted by a University of London psychologist, found that people distracted by e-mail and phone calls lost 10 IQ points, more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana -- or comparable to losing a night's sleep."

Amen. Between work and family obligations, life is busy; and with media and devices of all sorts contantly bombarding us with ever-more news and information, it all becomes a bit overwhelming. At a certain point, one just needs to find a quiet place (which, let's face it, is easier to do now that competent adults are in charge in Washington).