Friday, October 25, 2013

Information Overload and Psychological Health

Twitter.  Facebook. Linked-In. The 24-hour news cycle. Smartphones.  This is the world we now live in.  To be sure, look at the picture on the right of this article and ask yourself if this is you.

Though hyper-connectivity allows friends and families to stay in touch, and facilitates business activities, it can also backfire.  For instance, earlier this week the story of Jofi Joseph, the White House national security staffer who was fired for his Twitter activity criticizing the administration.  


At a deeper level, this hyper-connectivity can lead to psychological detriments.  Rolf Dobelli of The Guardian sums it up this way:
In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don't really concern our lives and don't require thinking. That's why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

An over-abundance of information.  Perhaps this is something you have never thought about.  It is more common to think of "over abundance" in terms of material possessions or food, but does this really apply to information?

From a behavioral science perspective, if an "over abundance" is indeed taking place, then we should be able to get objective measures of its effect on behavior.  A few months ago, ABC News published an article called "Farewell Facebook, and Good Riddance."  The gist of the article can be gathered from the following quote:
If you haven't noticed, there's currently a mass exodus from Facebook taking place. In the past three months there's been a drop among users in the United States, and an even more considerable dip among users in the United Kingdom.
The article goes on to site research indicating various deleterious psychological effects of social networking.

So what about you?  Do you sometimes get a nagging feeling that you just need to step away from it all?  To put your smart phone down for a few minutes?  To go an hour without checking your email?  Share your story below.

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