Every reader knows
That the trick to book completion
Is to read a little every day,
Before you go to sleep.
But not every book’s a winner
And the Internet’s a tempter
So the pile on the bed stand grows
And our mind never goes to sleep.

 

You’ve got to know when to scan ’em,
Know when to can ’em,
Know when to read all night,
And when to pull away.
Just say no to your wi-fi
When a book is there awaitin’.
There’ll be time enough for surfin’
When the readin’s done.

 

Words. They scroll through our lives all day long from the screen in the doctor’s waiting room to the wearable permanently attached to our hand or wrist. And if we aren’t reading words, we’re listening to them.

I love interacting with words through reading, writing, and listening, but lately, I’ve been disturbed that I don’t read books as much as I did in the past. When I came across the post, Why Can’t We Read Anymore?|Or, Can Books Save Us from What Digital Does to Our Brains? I found myself connecting with many of the author’s experiences. I recommend reading it all the way to the end—if your brain is up to the challenge. It’s a long article.

We’re becoming a generation of skimmers and scanners because of the sheer amount of information we’re exposed to every day. It’s a survival skill in this Information Age, but it’s clearly changing the way we spend our days. It’s changing the way we interact. It’s changing the fabric of the world we live in. And it’s changing our brains.

  • Our attention spans have decreased.
  • Our ability to focus is diminished.
  • It takes more frequent hits of digital engagement (like checking e-mails or social media) to satisfy us.
  • We’re losing our ability to read and digest long-form writing such as in-depth articles and books.

The irony of writing a blog post about the need to limit our intake of words does not escape me. Though I’m actually working towards posting more consistently, I don’t plan to significantly increase the average number of posts on my blog. My goal is to share at least one useful post per week with a maximum of eight posts per month.

Why an upper limit? Because limitation frees us to focus on the essentials in any given situation and to work on projects or relationships that take time and concentration. Limitation also frees someone else from the need to say no to one more thing.

The Internet is making curators out of us all.

A museum cannot display all of its works of art all of the time due to limits of space, so the curator must pick and choose what to display and when. When it comes to the information we take in, we have to curate what we allow into the exhibit hall of our mind. If we plunge into the flood of information each day with no curating plan in place, we will soon be overwhelmed and exhausted.

So what are some practical ways we can curate what we read?

  • Set time limits. Decide how long you will give to a given reading task, and stick to it. Use a timer or set up your schedule so that you don’t end up surfing all day when you meant to take a quick run along the beach. Turn off the wi-fi at home during certain times of the day.
  • Make a date with a book. Put it on your calendar. Dress up and buy flowers if it helps!
  • Find other curators that you trust. The Internet has many curators who sift through information so you don’t have to do it yourself. These curators include news sites, news feeds, discussion forums, social media, and niche blogs. Just be aware that each curated site has its own slant and level of trustworthiness.
  • Turn off instant notifications. If something is truly time-sensitive and important, the people close to me have my cell phone number and call or text me. Though I like to keep up with my other methods of communication on a daily basis, I rarely need to respond to an e-mail or Facebook update immediately. Sign up for daily or weekly summaries if you want to be certain you don’t miss notifications.
  • Put in the large rocks first. I’m sure all of you have seen the demonstration where you can get more into a jar if you start with the large rocks, then add the pebbles, then the sand, and finally the water. When it comes to planning your days, put the important activities in the day’s bucket first. If that only leaves you five minutes to check your e-mail in the morning, guess what? That may be more than enough time.
  • Eliminate unnecessary screens. This is a tough one. I have four screens at my disposal, not including the family television—an old laptop, a newer laptop, a Kindle and a smart phone. Could I live without one or more of them? Should I?

I’m not ready to go back to the “good old days” before the event of the all-you-can-eat, twenty-four-hour technology buffet, but perhaps, it’s time we go back to ordering off the menu in order to limit our options, reduce our information overload, and save our brains.

What do you think? How do you cope with information overload?