T.M.I.

How to Survive Information Overload

There was a time when people who wanted to talk to us picked up a telephone—a device that was firmly attached to a wall. If we weren’t in earshot of our own firmly attached devices or if we were already talking to someone else the caller got a busy signal, which put the burden on them to keep trying to reach us. Contrast that with all the ways people have to reach us now. We can chat by video, e-mail, texts and tweets. Our phones have become an extra appendage. And then there’s Facebook which can keep us glued to stories and videos about interesting things happening in other people’s lives, many of whom we don’t even know. News is no longer limited to twice daily broadcasts and it’s no longer local—it’s 24/7 from around the world. Everywhere, all the time, someone is screaming (often literally) for our attention. A professor at McGill University calls this information overload a “cognitive flood” and says, “By one calculation we’ve created more information in the last 10 years than in all of human history before that.” Yikes!

That’s just TMI.

Our brains are not designed to handle all of this data, especially aging brains that process information more slowly. How do we keep from drowning in the flood?

By learning how to use technology in a way that serves us rather than the other way around. Here are some ideas that might help:

Keep it simple.Think it through. What devices or apps will really benefit you? How will using them improve your life? Learn one new device, program or app at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed and frustrated. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not more complicated.

Stay in control. The Internet can be quite addicting. Take a news fast once in awhile. Turn off your phone. Establish times to surf the web, check e-mail and read Facebook. When that time is up, stop. Go outside. Take a walk. Read a book. You don’t have to be connected all the time.

Practice good online hygiene. Don’t click on e-mails from people you don’t know or the “jaw dropping” photos that show up on sidebars. You’re just exposing your device to viruses. Remember that public Wi-Fi is just that—public—so don’t risk doing secure work in Starbucks. Don’t open e-mails from people you know with nothing in the subject line. Odds are they’ve been hacked. And yes, any computer can be hacked.


It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.

                          ―Clay Shirkey


Be skeptical. There are no Nigerian princes offering rare investment opportunities. Your friend was not robbed and left in desperate straits in a foreign land and alas, no one is sending you money. You don’t need to update your Microsoft account to keep from losing it. The IRS will not e-mail you. If you get a message from your credit card company they will address you by name and they will never ask you for your password. If you have any doubts whether the e-mail is legit, call the company at the phone number on the back of your card—not the one the e-mailer gives you. Scammers are very, very good at making things look legit.

Be secure. Passwords are like keys to your house so make sure you trust anyone you share them with. Don’t use birthdates, anniversaries or names in your passwords. In fact, it’s better if you don’t use words at all. Spammers and scammers use sophisticated software that can run zillions of word possibilities to crack passwords. It’s best to use jibberish—a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols for your passwords. Yes, it’s a hassle but far better than the headache of trying to recover your accounts or your identity.

Be protected. Electronic equipment fails. It can get lost, stolen or damaged and all your information goes with it. Back up. Back up. Back up. Especially your important financial data.

Be careful what you post. Leaving town for an extended vacation? Just bought something new and expensive? Post that on Facebook and you might as well have just put a welcome sign to thieves on your front door.

Be responsible. The Internet is the wild, wild West of information land where tall tales abound. I am frequently astounded at what circulates as truth. Before you forward something that may be a complete fabrication, check it out. A good resource for that is www.snopes.com.

 Be smart. Posting on the Internet is forever. More than one person’s life or career has been destroyed because of an ill-advised post or a hasty tweet. If you wouldn’t want it to appear on the front page of your local newspaper, don’t post it.

Be respectful. Careful with comments. If you wouldn’t say it to them in person, don’t post it

My dad loved technology. When the first word processor hit the market he told me they were the wave of the future and he was right (as usual.) I wish he was here to see how far we’ve come. Technology is an amazing tool and well worth the time to master. Just remember who’s the master.