Finding your Sanctum when Information Overload crosses the thin line between Good Sense and Insanity
“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” — Gertrude Stein
Do you agree?
The flood of information that assaults my senses all day long sometimes leaves me feeling as though I have been hit by a freight train. And it comes at you from everywhere, in all forms, at all paces: verbal and non-verbal, slow like dripping rain one minute; the next, fast and more furious than your senses can interpret and adjust to them.
It’s a discordant orchestra that plays on and on through the live long day; some notes jarring, off-key, intrusive, like the sounds of someone’s radio or television coming through the walls of your home before the roosters have even begun to crow; some, a sweet and hauntingly beautiful twitter much like the lone ‘cling-cling’ bird calling its mate from its perch high on the power-lines above.
Since your sleep was disturbed, you decide you might as well get up anyway. So, you get dressed, jump into your car and you head to work. If you live in the city, by the time you’ve traversed the 10-mile highway, your ears would have been assailed by the blaring horns of impatient drivers all around you. As you inch your way through bumper to bumper, side-rubbing traffic, expect your reverie to be jarred by a thumping boombox as a fast sports car with a 50-something menopausal man at its wheel pulls up alongside you. Stay alert, for just ahead of you, a taxi cab has changed lanes suddenly, causing brakes to screech in protest. Cuss words and impolite invectives crackle through the smog created by a truck in front that has long passed retirement.
Strangers thrust faces twisted in anger through their windows and stick a middle finger in the air as a car moves off from the toll booth and its engine cuts, then coughs and splutter back to life. It’s a mayhem by then. White collared executives and little old ladies trying to beat the morning mash lose their common sense and become a writhing mess of emotions under the overload of noise and anxiety and impatience. The general perception seems to be, ‘the human behind that wheel is a monster, an alien, not a person who can make mistakes. In fact, there is no room for mistakes or ‘losers’ on this road.
So after a few minutes of this, you realise that you have been caught in the midst of road rage, and there is no escape from it except to wind up your windows tight, and even then the venomenous body language can’t be escaped.
I have to concur with Gertrude Stein, if for no other reason than that that her words more oft than not has a ring of truth when you’re on our city streets, in traffic. It’s undisputed that communication skills and common sense do take flight during the rush hours. Everyday. Everywhere.
Then there is the bombardment of messages from the visual media around you. Sometimes I curse my gift of being able to read; for the constant crush of billboards along our roadways, with their mega-sized images, letters looming large, and dazzling electronic advertisement boards with blades changing advertisements in a never ending rotation like commercial salesmen rapidly changing guard, force you to consume ideas sometimes too fast for the brain to even absorb.
If you have to drive into the countryside, The competition for your attention heats up. If you’ve been reading everything you can lay your eyes on along the two and a half hour ride, then rest assured that the sudden onset of nausea you feel may not be due only to another hairpin bend in the road, but your gasping brain indicating that it has turned into jello.
Then, there is… the Internet
The Internet, in my mind, (I did say in my mind, right?) is the best man -made discovery since the moon landings. Since its advent, it has revolutionalised the world, leveraging the Information Age with full frontal force, and fulfilling even Bible prophecy (knowledge will increase). It has shrunk the world, turned ordinary men into thought leaders, increased the divorce rate, and advanced everything under the sun; turned 17 year olds into media sensations; made dreams come true for marketing mavens; given a platform to people who never knew they had a voice.
Those who live there have created their own universe — so now we hear of the Blogosphere, and Twitterland. And I could gladly go on about its merits, blessings, benefits and yes . . . wait for it, its scourge. For it does have scourges in abundance.
As a self-confessed Web addict, I can attest to that. I can also unreservedly say that the Internet is the most crowded place I know. It’s all the city’s distractions I described earlier and much more rolled into one; the noise pollution is real. Those of us who visit this universe are at risk of overload. The scientist have warned us of the ‘lazying’ of the society because of computer games, cable tv and the great http://www.. The occupational experts warn us of the ergonomical hazards of sitting behind a computer screen for too long: sight problems, muscle strain, and so on. I’m sure it aggravates ADHD and ADD and those who live with it are warned to watch for overload alerts. Yet we continue to absorb the avalanche of messages being thrown at us through these various channels; ignoring the warnings to our state of mind and productivity, because we are hooked.
For example, each day that I go onto the Web, I struggle to stay focussed on my days’ tasks and too often fail miserably by the end of the day to achieve even half of my targets. It doesn’t help that I am an adult (self-diagnosed) living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The major attention-hoggers come in the form of backlinks on the page you are reading. (Google Chrome crashes and my computer hangs up, because I feel I must have 10 pages up at the same time, as like an eager child I open door after another door to this Pandora’s Box of treasures.) When it is not the back links, the pop-ups, the sliders or the side bars, the lures of sensational headlines can hog- tie and drag you around all day seducing your insatiable curiosity and thirst for information by luring you into a walk across the Web, until if you are not careful, you are crawling into bed at three in the morning totally intoxicated with information, even as your alarm rings and your disgruntled husband starts moving about preparing to leave for his early morning shift.
You ask me if I agree that the Information Age has brought with it an avalanche that has knocked some of us senseless? I would say ‘yes’. Has it increased the earth’s noise level and made us into blabbering idiots? Hmmm, maybe the latter’s a tad exaggerated. Has it addled some brains in the process and cause common sense to take to the wind? The evidence is all around us: People just letting everything hang out, good sense, safety, tact and decorum being put aside by educated people and those who should know better; the loss of respect for our neighbours’ right to a quiet space as neighbourhood parties go way into the morning; ‘breaking’ bad news emitting from our tv screens under the hour and de-sensitizing us to things that once made our skins crawl and caused us to be horrified, or muting our innate alert buttons to the signs of real danger like hundreds of birds lying dead on a shore, sure sign that our ecosystem is in trouble, but which we ignore, as in our Hollywoodesque, zombie -like state, these phenomena pass over us as nine-day wonders.
(“What’s wrong with the World, has the world gone mad? Remember that 80’s hit? It’s begun to play in my head, as I conclude my essay.) While all things that have gone wrong cannot be attributed to information overload, has it not played a significant role in the flight of common-sense from our society? Is it incorrect to say that the stress barometer of societies have soared because of communication noise in our environment: inside our governments, communities, schools, workplaces, homes. Inside us?
Inside me the discordant orchestra has played for too long and has become a scratched record jarring on my nerves. Is there a solution to something that seems bigger than me and you? How does one switch off this uneven- tempoed melody? Well, we certainly will never be able to pull the plug on all the messages that flood us daily, but we have the control and I hope the common sense to call, Halt.
A day by the beach works for me, even though I find that, even there these days, I have to search for an unpolluted plot of space where Mother Nature can speak to my embargoed mind, a quiet space where I can revel in my good senses: hear the wind whistling through the trees and the sound of waves washing onto the shoreline; revel in the soft feel of warm sand between my toes; allow my tired pupils to roam across vast blue sky to as far as where horizon meets ocean and back, smell the salt in the sea air and watch the sunrays dance the merengue within the shadows cast on my torso by the foliage of wise trees rooted firmly into unshifting sands of time.
Then slowly, temporally, as I unwind, the load shifts. I regain my balance; my mind finds its sabbath. I savour it for as long as I can, for in a breath, as I leave this sanctum, the world’s unbridled messages will come rushing in to crowd my space.
Common sense will and must prevail. I have to get me some reins and bridle. To stem the maddening overload of a horse I love dearly, but left untrained will take flight, and my remaining good sense with it.
How do you switch off when your need for information and overload alert starts a war inside you ? Share your comments below.