13 Aug Too Much Information? Take Some Time to Turn Off, Tune Out.
“Too much information running through my brain / Too much information driving me insane.” The Police sang that. Four decades ago. CNN, the first 12-hour cable news channel, was in its infancy. There was no social media. The first web browser was 10 years in the future.
If that was 1981, no wonder we’re feeling a little crazy now.
Burnout. Funk. Mush brain.
If you’re having trouble concentrating, your creativity feels tapped and you’re exhausted, you’re not alone. Scientists say there’s a reason, and The Police predicted it: “too much information.” Nature programmed our brains to automatically prioritize information, with a hardwired fast-throughput for threats. It’s what let us distinguish the tiger from the trees.
There was a time when the news came at us in manageable morsels at predictable times: the daily newspaper, the evening broadcast. That’s when we looked at the tigers — wars, economic crises, political and social unrest. The rest of the day, we saw the trees, and were able to concentrate on the daily tasks of work and life. Aside from that, the news only interrupted our regular programming for truly significant events, such as assignations of leaders. Real-time coverage was reserved for history-making events, like sending humans to the moon.
Now, the news is always on, and everything is a tiger. Even a change in the weather is tracked like a coming cataclysm, as if everyone somehow forget that it rains in summer and snows in winter. And that primordial processor in our brains pull our attention to the chyrons, sensing that all this must be important. Too much information running through our brains.
The news is always on and amplified exponentially by social media. To make matters worse, the algorithms that track our online interests feed us more of what intrigues us, like an enabling bartender.
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”
E.O. Wilson wrote that in 1998. The rest of his quote is even more interesting. “The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”
If we are going to succeed, we need to consume all that information so that we can make important choices wisely; it’s a competitive edge. We’re not just becoming addicted to information, we need it.
And then came COVID-19. That is a tiger, a real, dangerous threat. With it came rapid change; we need to know what’s happening to manage our businesses and our lives. It’s made us even more hyper alert.
But here’s the rub. As T.S. Eliot wrote: “Go go go said the bird: humankind cannot bear very much reality.” We can only process so much information. When our animalistic brain is seeing tigers all around, it overwhelms the capacity of our 20th-21st-century brain. With apologies to Timothy Leary, we need to turn off, tune out.
As communicators, our job is to get your attention, to cut through all the tigers and deliver our message. This time, we’re asking you to give yourself some quiet space. Find the trees. We need a little time away from each other. It’ll be good for our relationship, and we’ll both be better for it.
We know it may not be easy, so we offer the advice in this 90-second video to get you started:
Public Relations specialist Bridget Paverd is a founding partner of GillespieHall. The firm is retained by global organizations to manage their reputation and enhance their relevance. A recognized crisis communications strategist, Paverd has led GillespieHall to become the most awarded and influential strategic communications and PR firm in the region. Paverd teaches crisis media management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy Delaware Business Times