Drinking From the Information Firehose

A common thread in conversations with both friends and coachees recently has been the conscious choice to temper the volume of incoming information.  Even for those of us with voracious appetites for learning, staying afloat of incoming information is seemingly more difficult than in the past.

This data (shared in a recent continuing ed event) gives context to why:

  • 400 billions bits of data per second are produced/pushed and humans can only take in a few thousand.
  • 2 million emails are sent every second
  • 40,000 Google searches occur every second
  • 6,000 tweets occur per second
  • 84% of the 5 billion global mobile phone users (in 2018) say they wouldn’t go a single day without their phone
  • an average world-wide family has 10 digital devices

Like many of our adult decisions, this one too is foundationally about how we want to cultivate and use our physical and cognitive capacity.    Here are 3 ways to consider your relationship with information.

  1. Giving a vast amount of digital information our full attention requires extended time with our devices and may compete for the time we could be spending with in social activities, in hobbies, with nature, being active, or simply being.  This can lead to isolation if we’re not careful.
  2. Efforts to keep up in real-time often involve splitting, switching or diluting our attention resulting in less quality and more effort overall. In addition to longer execution times per task, a consequence here is the underlying loss of well-honed focus and concentration skills.
  3. Just like other habits, we train our brain to the reward, that little dopamine hit that, when positive, keeps us coming back for more.   Are you training the habit you want?  I often hear being plugged in leads us to feel we’re in the know with people or groups that matter.  We like the novelty of what might be waiting since a minute ago when we last looked. It could be the diversion away from a harder task training procrastination.

The easy hook of constant incoming information strengthens the case for developing a mindfulness practice. Research has shown that 10 minutes of mindfulness practice reduces the effect of mind-wandering and multi-tasking. Similarly, 8 weeks of mindfulness through MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) is shown to thicken gray matter, lower stress and tamp down the amygdala; all changes that support the health, capacity and functionality of mind and body.

As it is with most changes, remember it takes repetition to create new habits (and our brain is a fan of routines), so expect to put in some hard work to stick with it until your brain takes over and gets the message.

Ah….ain’t neuroplasticity grand?







( Mrazek, Smallwood, and Schooler, 2012: Harvard, 2011: Banks, 2018)


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