Sometimes it is better to pull the plug. Wake up, smell the coffee, go outside. Breathe true air. Because what we have today is what I described before as information overload. Basically, because of technology, globalization, and human nature, we have too much stuff going on in our lives, and it’s starting to bog us down. As the internet grows bigger, our communication with others becomes stronger, products and services continue to come to us from every part of the globe, and as we desperately strive to fill ourselves up being a part of this entire information ecosystem, by sharing, ranting, and basically enjoying it, the overload will continue. In this article I will share with you my experiences in trying to control my personal information overload, and hopefully you could derive some kind of solution in your own overload problems.
Well, not that my advice would be of any significant value. There are better people out there who are better-equipped (physically and/or mentally) to deal with their real-life issues. I am here as a typical geek layman, someone who is supposed to love information overload by the nature of being into anime, games and technology. First things first… when did I jump from loving information overload to loathing it? Since I started being in the corporate slave, of course. I have worked for quite a while now, and I find that my down time isn’t as plentiful anymore as in my school days. Back in college, I was able to marathon tons of anime or play long hours of games. Not anymore. There were times I was too stressed out at work that I can’t muster to enjoy any kind of entertainment. Keep in mind that I also had worked in Japan for a freaking YEAR, and as someone who isn’t inclined in the Japanese work culture of going overtime every single day, coupled with the mostly-alone apartment life responsibilities like cooking and cleaning… I was really a workaholic.
Information overload is not just about entertainment per se, but all kinds of information including news, education, and even personal dealings. Back in Japan, sometimes I forget to check up on the international news. God knows if the world is going to end already without me knowing. In terms of education, as a computer programmer, I did want to learn more languages and hone my skills. My work was becoming quite stale and I was locked into a certain kind of skill set that doesn’t grow. Unfortunately I really don’t have much time away from work to do that. And personal dealings. I was completely ‘told’ by friends and family when I had never called back home or even chatted via internet for a few weeks. Those were rocky times in my psyche indeed. Imagine hearing news of a death of a relative or a school acquaintance, or changes like “oh and they broke up” and “she’s pregnant!” and “they’re married already”, when you are thousands of miles away and can’t share with them your happiness or sadness about their matters.
Coming back to my home country was quite a breather, but it wasn’t that easy either. Considering that I can’t do anything else (other than work and some play) there in Japan because I’m not from that country, there are more kinds of overload waiting for me at home. It was around this time, three years ago, that my prodigal journey had ended. My outlook towards my life had really changed from there. Sometimes you can see the desperation reflected in my blog, in which whatever promises I made would eventually fail anyway. In the end this casual, sporadic blogging would be the norm for the next years up until now. I came home quite beaten up, only to be beat up just more. I still have the same job, so even though I have a little more time in my hands due to not going overtime anymore, that doesn’t amount to much because I commute to and from the office through vicious traffic jams. My apartment in Japan was quite convenient… because I only walk half a minute to and from the office. Heh. Also because of this, I started acting like a hikki sometimes refusing to go on social meetings and such. Great, that’s no different from being inaccessible via phone or internet chat… actually that’s worse. So with my time similarly limited, with broken blogging, broken habits and hobbies, and broken awareness of things that are happening around me, I finally realized that I had been a victim of information overload. That would be the time when I try to start picking up the pieces.
Apologies for that long intro to my life, this is where “handling information overload” actually starts, lol.
I asked myself a lot of questions. What information do I need? What information do I want? What would be considered vital information? Can I sort out information? Is there a way to filter out information? How do I keep things simple. How do I keep information at a minimum without missing out? While I can’t answer those in a general way, I do find those questions as a great barometer. Those questions will only yield more specific questions, and those I can answer directly.
To give a specific example, let’s start with technology, particularly Linux. I admit, I’m a Windows guy… and if you ever see me going Linux, it will only be information overload for me. I used to try a lot of Linux operating systems from Ubuntu to Red Hat, but no matter what I do, I can’t ever use it. I can’t imagine myself using it everyday. Even if I completely configured my computer running perfectly in Linux, there will always be that hardware or software quirk that would annoy me into saying “why can’t this feature which is in my Windows be in my Linux”? Sure, as they say in Linux, if they don’t have it… write code for it. Heh, that’s kinda unproductive. Unless my career path becomes Linux, I don’t think I can handle it… so I threw it all away. It’s enough that I know what Linux is and that I know the gist of how it works. The time to go all out isn’t today. Thus my prime solution to information overload was born:
“If it’s not your battlefield, don’t try to make it your own.”
There should be a reason, a motivation, and an inspiration if you are into something. You shouldn’t enter into something with shallow thoughts, because it will only overwhelm you. As a Windows user, Linux is not my way into the computing world. I don’t need to learn more about Linux than what I know right now (I’m a pretty good end user). Now, for example, if my job requirement changed to needing Linux, then Linux becomes my battlefield. That would be the time to learn more about it, because it isn’t information overload anymore.
This general rule would apply to every aspect of information overload that I had encountered. It required me to gather whatever I had at the moment, and figure out which places are my true battlefields. Stuff that I am already good or familiar at. So lessee, in terms of anime, I’m into moe~, shoujo, and slice-of-life. Goodbye sports, mecha, action, and fantasy… unless they are good. This essentially limited my anime viewing to bare minimums, but because I only focused on genres which are my fortes, I don’t think I’m particularly missing out. In terms of education, whatever programming languages I am already skilled at, I can hone them more. International news? I don’t need to be watching CNN every hour right? Even just the headlines suffice. Real-life/social issues? At the very least, ping on messengers or check out social networking sites to check up on “people”, not what “people do that doesn’t matter” like their scores on their online games or something.
My solution is some kind of priority prioritization isn’t it. Focus on what’s important, with a small amount dedicated to whatever “may” be important. This is a very critical statement, because sometimes we prioritize those which “may be important” in our lives and those make up the bulk of information overload. We think too much on one topic, especially on the short term, that we forget that in the long run… it doesn’t freaking matter after all.
All your usual anti-stress methods are compatible with this, after all, many of our hobbies are anti-stress methods. With so much information available and ready for us to consume (or rather, ready to consume us), we have to start trying to counter by evaluating our own appetite. In the end, all it boils down is the will, the knowledge, the power, and the courage to identify which things matter to you the most. If it matters to you, it isn’t the one overloading you. All other things… are.