Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The predigested information diet

I used to read the newspaper every morning. It was important, I reasoned, to know what was happening in the world. But mid way through last year, I made a conscious decision to stop. It's not just newspapers either. I don't watch the news on television, listen to the radio or read magazines. I'm cutting myself off from the world.

Why? I decided that I get no actual benefit from trying to stay up to date. In fact, paying attention to the news is distracting and depressing for me.

I aim to end each day a little bit wiser. I used to think that reading about the state of the world would add to my wisdom. Now I realise that much of what's in the news is information with a used-by date. It is interesting but it is not useful to me. Reading newspapers takes away time that I could spend on learning about something that will help me.

There are many pressing issues in the world. Every day some crisis is emerging. I used to read about these crises every day, and it took a toll on my mental health. A civil war erupted in an African country. North Korea tested a nuclear weapon. The ice caps were melting a little bit faster than we thought. I read about these things and I felt overwhelmed and anxious.

I don't need or want to feel that way. Most of these issues are beyond my control. There is nothing I can do about it, so why should I care or worry?

Using people as filters
I do care about the world. There are some issues, like poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability, which I'd like to engage with and take action on. Knowledge and information can help me act more effectively in these areas. The problem is there's so much out there. Far too much for me to read.

So my strategy is to rely on other people. If I want to find out something, I don't spend hours searching on google or flicking through pages in the library, I go out and ask someone. They've done the searching for me. They can tell me the answer straight away or at least direct me to the best book to read. They filter out the garbage and leave the gems.

Sometimes I don't have a specific question to ask, I just want to learn more about a topic. In that case, I look for pre-digested information. I look for an expert, who has already done all the searching, filtered out the garbage and resynthesised that information to make it easy to take in. Here I'm talking about blogs, lectures and seminars. A blogger or speaker, who's good at what they do can save me many hours of bumbling around looking in the wrong places. I'm quite happy to pay for quality information. I believe the greatest Return On Investment around is from investing in yourself.

How do you find your information? What strategies do you have to avoid information overload?

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