“You mean you haven’t heard of that?”
Sometimes a friend will say this to me when I haven’t seen the latest viral video everyone’s been commenting about on Facebook or read the 10,000 word New York Times article about a social justice issue.
At first, I took this statement, whenever I heard it, as a challenge. I felt like people were a) implying I didn’t know something I should or b) triumphing supposedly knowing more than I did about one of my fields of expertise.
(Yes, I do hear this statement a lot.)
Between the stuff I have to know (work stuff), stuff I want to and should know (news about friends and family) and stuff I just wanted to know (how to cook with matcha green tea) it was already too much. If I could set up ten of my brains in some kind of parallel circuit to process information 24-7, I would still not know everything.
After this realization, when someone asked me about something online I hadn’t heard about, I felt defeated. In a podcast I can’t remember, someone talked about dealing with email being like being in an avalanche, you are moving handfuls of snow but more is coming at you faster than you can imagine. I feel that about email, instant message, social media, RSS feeds, and audio/video in general.
I sat with this hopeless feeling for awhile. I need to know some things but not all things. So what do I do?
Since I’ve changed nothing, nothing has changed. And then something came into my life I needed but would not have known to seek out.
I’ve talked before about Note To Self, a podcast I regularly listen to. I took place in their ‘Bored and Brilliant’ challenge awhile back which basically challenged people to spend less time on their phone through a series of daily challenges. If you missed it and want to do it, here are all the challenges.
This latest challenge called Infomagical was what I needed. Infomagical’s week of challenges offered us ways to change how we process all the information that is coming in. (If you missed it, you can still do it, just click here.)
The podcast episode launching the project mentioned that ten years ago, we were interrupted an average of once every three minutes. And now we’re interrupted once every 45 seconds. Having run this business for nine years this May, I was wondering why over the last couple years in particular I have felt so overwhelmed by information.
Day 1 was the worst day: forcing me to unitask. I don’t just multitask at work, I do at home too. Often I am washing dishes, cooking dinner, and answering emails at the same time. It is like I am in a race with myself 7 am to 7 pm to see how much I can get done before I let myself relax. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been in battle (and I’m sure I look like it too.) Sitting and waiting for files to upload without tabbing over to the next screen felt painful. But much like call center people can look forward to the small break between when they are hung up on and when the machine autodials the next number (ie when there is literally nothing they can do but wait), towards the end of the day, I started looking forward to these times in my day when there would be breaks (attaching images to an email, uploading the podcast, etc.) It made me feel the task at hand getting done.
I won’t ruin the Infomagical challenge for you but I will say it was a good one if you feel like I do: overwhelmed by information.
I have started to push back a little when people say to me things like ‘You mean you haven’t seen insert-thing-here?’
“Nope, but why don’t you tell me about it?” I say. Because somehow, if I think I have to know something beyond what I consciously consume, I bet that information will find its way to me if I am meant to know it. And while my life may be less rich than it would have if I had watched that cat video, I bet the cat I see when I walk my dog will be an ok substitute.