Thursday, October 10, 2013

Information Overload-How Much Is Too Much

As many readers know, I constantly and consistently make an effort to control the both the amount technology and information in my life. I make a special effort to eliminate both cell phone technology and use of my laptop one day a week, with the exception of communicating with family.  I do watch television and have cable, but I am selective with my programming.  I also watch news on the television and read the newspaper on a regular basis.

Recently I commented briefly on the current state of affairs regarding our government.  I was and am extremely distressed on many levels with the government as a whole and a few minority congressmen specifically.  A friendly reader commented on my post and sent me a link to an article on the Mr. Money Mustache blog called “The Low Information Diet”.  In this article, as I understand it, he suggests that the average person should pay absolutely no attention to the news. His arguments are many:  the news is sensationalist.  News organizations need to make a profit. He also states that he is not opposed to being informed, he just thinks that one should do so via the occasional book, or blog.  

As a follow up to the comments of that post, Mr. Mustache wrote another post about the circles of influence vs control. While I encourage you to read these for yourself, the primary takeaway for me is that we should only focus on those things over which we have some control. He suggests that the economy, overseas poverty, wars and other national issues are things which we cannot control. We should concentrate our energies only on the things we can immediately control and ignore the rest.

I am not a news junkie (although I am the parent of such a person). I tend to read a newspaper and watch two different news shows daily – a nightly news show and BBC America.  On Sundays I often watch 60 minutes as part of my post football routine when I am home. I am not a person who gets up and watches the news, nor do I peruse it all day long online.  I say all this to make it clear that I understand some of what he is trying to say. Watching the news all day can make you crazy-and frankly we all have better things to do. I think many, many people could do with less television, less news, less computer or phone time (screen time as one blogger calls it all).  I do not, however, think ignorance is bliss.

We live in a small world, something many seem not to realize.  When my son was confused about American attitudes when we were in Germany, I tried to explain the differential. I told him that in the US we see ourselves on one hand, and the rest of the world on the other hand. Western Europeans think of themselves as a finger or two on the hand of the world.  The same is true of the local level-we think of the government and the people three thousand miles away as "over there".  We'll just go on our way, do what we can do and let that be the end of it. Lock it all away.


Rather than going off topic here, I promise I am making (I hope) a couple points.  The first point is that we can have influence well beyond our immediate circle and home town.  While think globally and act locally is a nice phrase, and effective, that is not all that exists.  I belong to a church that houses homeless women in its basement one day a week.  I also belong to a church that travels to Honduras yearly.  The travelers carry medical supplies, glasses and other things. During the two weeks they dig latrines, renovate buildings, give shots, and a million other things.  There are many things within our circle of control that extend far beyond our immediate area. I want to know about things going on in other places. Maybe I can help or influence, maybe I cannot. But if I don't know, how can I find out or decide.

The second, and more important in the current climate, I expect is this:  By the same token, things that happen in faraway places affect us, and we should know that they are happening and be prepared for them.  Without going into the political rights and wrongs, the current national situation is a perfect example.  At first blush, the government shut down may seem far away. We feel sorry for those poor federal workers and it’s too bad we can’t go to the park, but that’s about it. In fact, in one week it as affected almost all of us in ways visible and invisible. The cost for one week of a government shutdown is a billion dollars-and will come from the pockets of the taxpayers. 

Federal employees are everywhere, not just in Washington. My brother is an Alaskan fisherman.  Since supposedly nonessential folks were sent home, no licenses are being issued for the season.  Fisherman cannot fish during the height of the season. The end result is that all the folks on the fleet will need to rely on government benefits for a long time to support their families. The cost of crab and salmon will skyrocket.  I agree that salmon and crab are not necessary to life, but this is one example of the huge economic effect.  Family day care providers in places like Colorado Springs are not getting paid.

Third,  I would argue that there are things that we NEED to know, even though we have little control. I certainly cannot control a blizzard, but there are things I can do to make my life easier. If I live in Beaufort, or Mobile, or Miami, I surely want to know if there is a super storm brewing in the Atlantic, and the closer it gets, the closer I want to follow it.

And finally, there are things that we SHOULD know, just because we are caring and informed people and part of a greater community. There is a great deal to be said for human awareness.

As I said, I try very hard not to make myself crazy in terms of the news and information. I do however, think that awareness and current information are important to life. The best way I know to get real time information is through newspapers and other news sources-be they television, the radio or online sources.  To those who would talk about bias, I agree.  Which is why I listen to an overseas news source and an American one, as well as ready a fairly independent (in terms of politics) news paper.  Books and magazines are no less biased, be they newsworthy or not.  Each magazine has it's own perspective, and even official biographies are slanted.  The new book "Killing Jesus" is full of historical inaccuracies as well as incorrect assumptions (like the idea that Roman historians always wrote the truth).

The challenge is to use our minds to reason, and to find the level of information that is comfortable for each of us.  Personally, I want to know that a sixteen year girl has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Price, and watch a show about young men who walked across Africa for a new life-even if that means I also have to read about things not so nice - but that's just me.

What's your level of comfort on the information highway?

5 comments:

  1. Right now I need to take a sabbatical from all media coverage on the shut down and the looming debt ceiling, and that's from someone that already exercises extreme caution in the arena of media exposure. Things are getting out of hand, quickly, and everywhere I go these days it seems 'normal' people are itching for a political fight.

    For quite a few years now, I get most of my news from PBS. I loathe the 24/7 entertainment/news channels, and I likewise loath local news. Here in California the content of our local news channels is so light on meaty content and heavy on fluff it's embarrassing. "Beyonce buys a new outfit . . . update at 11!"

    I do think MMM's follow up blog on understanding your personal circle of influence was extremely insightful. He connects the dots on how influencing those things that you can eventually trickle upward to influence those things that technically you cannot, but that over time give way to cumulative changes because of those very things you do control. If you practice living your own principals, in other words, and those principals catch on, massive change can eventually occur.

    I am not happier for knowing about all the cr#p that is currently occurring in Washington, and nothing in my life would be different if I were not so aware. Actually, what would be different is that I'd be much happier for the not knowing.

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  2. Thanks Tamara. I think everyone needs to find their own comfort level when it comes to the news. As I say, I also avoid the so called news channels although I love two of our local news channels and I get most of my news from the BBC with the occasional evening news thrown in. Honestly at this point I think people NEED to get angry-maybe they'll remember at election time. For me, MMMs suggestion would be like putting my hands in my ears and going blah, blah blah. Whether this is because I have so many friends in so many areas and need to know what is going on in the places I've lived and been. That and being part of the federal government for twenty five years.

    that said, I have attempted to allow posts in real time, so we shall see what happens. I've eliminated all non identified users but that's my solution.

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  3. I don't mean to leave the impression that I would choose being uninformed over being informed. I would not. I am, however, working to stay informed without becoming obsessed. I don't always succeed, but I see the value in striking a healthy balance.

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    1. I understand absolutely. You have to set certain limits. Mine are a paper and tw onews shows daily......for the most part.

      On the other hand this posted on its own, so we may well have success!

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