How The tech Era Is Messing With Our heads
Technology and everyday life are no longer separate entities, there are one and inseparable. It is said that the average person is spending 7.5 hours on screens per day. So, that’s looking at upwards of 17 years of screen time in your lifetime. It’s evident that we can’t escape it! But what is this information and tech overload doing to us?
Our brains are Addicted to Snacking on Information
Humans have always been curious beings, but it has been found by the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the HAAS School of Business that the brain when searching for information accesses the same neural code as searching for money. Professor Hsu said, “to the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful.” Our brains are craving information, with no care for its usefulness!
Between work, phones, laptops, radio, TV, and all channels of information that we encounter throughout the day, we are consuming around 11.8 hours of information per day, and yet oftentimes we can’t even recall a single thing we’ve learned in a day. In a knowledge economy, information would be seen as the most valuable commodity, but when it’s coming at us from every angle imaginable, it is doing more harm than good.
Not only is information overload affecting mental health and well-being, but its effects reach well into productivity, innovation, and decision-making. For example, it’s been found that the average person takes 25 minutes to return, with full focus, to the task they were doing before they got the email. That is a big loss for the individual and for organisations. Not to mention the pressure and stress of feeling we have to reply to messages and emails immediately because instant messaging and replies have become the standard of modern-day communication. Of these 11.8 hours of information per day that we are consuming, how much of that information are we actually processing and taking in?
Want to Watch 94 Hours of Tik Tok?
Okay, bear with me while we look at some stats to create our foundation. A study that came from the University of California found that on average we consume around 34 gigabytes of data and information every day. That much data is equivalent to streaming every episode of Stranger Things (1GB per episode, 25 episodes) or scrolling TikTok for 94 hours straight (2.7hrs/GB). We knew we were consuming a lot of information but putting it like that seems shocking!
The processing capacity of our mind is estimated to be 120 bits per second (bps). In order for us to be able to understand one person speaking, we need 60bps in order to process. To (barely) comprehend two people speaking, we need 120bps. Convert this to gigabytes per day, the brain can process around 74GB of data a day.
While it still appears that we have over half of our processing capacity left, we are still consuming five times more information that the average person in 1986…and that’s only 36 years ago. Our retention of all of this information is dismal. One day after learning something, there is only a 50% retention rate, and after 7 days, the retention rate is below 15%. Basically, we are consuming information like junk food to keep the information addiction in our brain happy, but the empty calories (information) don’t actually do anything for us.
We Can Be the Remedy to Information Overload
While often, we are the cause of our information overload (like checking our phones every five minutes or scrolling Tik Tok for hours on end), we can also be a part of the solution. Yes, a lot of information does come onto you and that isn’t your fault, but it is really important that we are able to preserve our well-being, innovation, and decision-making skills by being able to implement boundaries with information.
To start (and it is easier said than done) but work on ignoring a little bit of information every day. We naturally feel the pressure to respond to every bit of information, but we don’t have to. Obviously, don’t choose to ignore your bosses’ emails or the important information that does need your attention, but there is a lot of information coming at you that you can ignore. If you can’t ignore it, work on creating an information queue. It is kind of like a to-do list of information that you need to respond to, but only letting yourself tackle one thing at a time.
While we’re taught at school that skim reading is not the way to do it, in the age of information overload, I would argue that it’s a great skill. There is a time and place for it, but if the time and place are right, skim over the information and see if it needs your full attention or if you can get away with skimming it and not really taking it in to preserve some processing energy. There are things that are okay to do that with! If you are in a team or work environment, and in the position that you can, don’t forget to delegate! That will help information overload immensely.
Setting Boundaries with Technology Might Just Save You
I will always be an advocate for technology because look how far it has brought us! But, like everything, there are cons and things we need to be aware of! Information overload is one of them, and if it goes ignored you will only be on the path to burnout. Start with being aware of how much screen time or information consumption you are interacting with each day, and go from there, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries with technology and information, it might just save you!
Hey! You’re Biased! – #32 Levels of Processing Effect
The levels of processing effect is the idea that the way we process information affects how well we remember it. The levels of processing model counter the idea that mere repetition helps us retain information long-term. Instead of this, the levels of processing effect suggest that information that is encoded on a deeper level, through meaningful association, is easier to remember.
Ask Wonder. (2022). How much information do we learn each day? Ask Wonder. https://www.blog.askwonder.com/blog/information-data-media-consumed-in-day-average
Cohut, M. (2019). Are our brains addicted to information? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325588
McCay, J. (2022). The cost of entertaining kids with screen time. Compare the Market. https://www.comparethemarket.com.au/energy/features/cost-of-screen-time/#:~:text=We%20asked%20Aussies%20aged%2018,for%20those%20aged%2025%2D34.
Wachira, M. (2022). Consuming information research. https://askwonder.com/research/consuming-information-research-gngr6owc2?h=c2ea0077b81b60170524893115bbc6b9942f9ca675882d97751358022ed812cf