Date of the last update: 27.09.2022
Every year, the amount of information bombarding us from all directions is increasing. From banners on fences, through ads on public transport and up to glaring neon signs and blinking, tempting interactive ads on the Internet. All this creates the so-called information noise, especially present in the web and social media.
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A lot of it!
Information “noise” is a jumble of information, often worthless and not very specific. It overwhelms us so much that we find it difficult to select valuable and necessary things from it. Out of this mass of information reaching our perception the majority is “waste” that pollutes the message. Unfortunately, it is not just the amount of information that is worrying here. Worse yet, most of it is chaotic and of poor quality, not set in a wider context or often even not up-to-date, let alone consistent. In most cases, there are no defined sources that could confirm veracity of information surrounding us every day, while we ourselves often do not have the desire, time or curiosity to check if a given piece of news is supported by some documents.
Apart from the concept of information noise, there are two more terms that have been coined: information smog and information fog. A Polish researcher, Ryszard Tadeusiewicz, compared information overload to smog and pointed to the adverse (as in the case of atmospheric smog) effects of this phenomenon on human health. He voiced a strong opinion on the metaphor on information fog:
“Fog is a cloud of tiny water droplets – a substance necessary for life and under typical conditions friendly to humans. Thus, the source of evil in fog is not its composition or content, but the fact that the water droplets are incredibly fragmented and ubiquitous. The same amount of water collected together, in one place and neatly arranged, does not pose any problem. Sprayed as fog, it paralyses and suffocates”.
Overwhelmed, ironically speaking, by the wealth of information, we tire our brains. We feel that information comes at us from every side and surrounds us like a fog. We are unable to assimilate it, because there is even more information waiting for us just round the corner. This produces the so-called information stress. When absorbing new information, it is important to integrate it with what we already know. But when it is so much of it, this is impossible.
Emergency detox kit
Just as it is good to detox after holiday overeating, we can also try to detox from information. Two tactics prove helpful. The first is to significantly reduce the amount of information that comes to us every day. The second is about improving our ability to process it.
First of all, we can greatly benefit from reducing our use of smartphones. Usually, it is our first and last companion on a day: we wake up and fall asleep with it. A simple method is to get a classic alarm clock (if we need an alarm clock at all). This way, we can keep the phone out of bedroom. Rather than starting your morning by staring at a screen, cuddle your loved ones or caress your pet, look out of the window and notice the weather. Make a short meditation to check how you’re feeling today and what your body is telling you. These simple activities can become your daily rituals and certainly do you a lot of good.
Talking about smartphones, it’s a good idea to turn off mobile notifications. App developers are well aware of how our mind works. Notifications usually pop up in red, which triggers our engagement and makes us check what alert has just arrived. This effectively distracts us from what we are currently doing. But hey, if something important happens, you will simply get a call or a text message, right?
Think about it: how many times a day you scroll through your Facebook or Instagram? Yes, we know, sometimes it’s hard to count. While on information detox, it’s a good idea to delete apps from your smartphone. If you need to check something important, you can access your accounts via websites (and this takes a little longer, so the mind often prefers to let go). Tidy up your social media accounts, too: delete friends you don’t keep in touch with, fan pages that no longer interest you and unsubscribe from groups you don’t frequent. You can also use special plugins to hide your Facebook Wall (it’s an option for the brave ones!). This prevents compulsive scrolling of the content. After all, when used wisely, Facebook itself is quite a useful tool.
An interesting solution may be to change the colour display on your phone to black and white. This way your eyes won’t be tempted by colourful images, and thus reaching for the phone will become less attractive. Most smartphones have this setting at the screen settings level.
Online discussions can consume so much of our energy. Do you really want to get into conversations which often end in arguments? Maybe it’s better to meet up with a friend who happens to be interested in the subject you want to discuss and have a real chat over coffee?
We all know very well how being accepted by others affects us. We feel important, recognised and welcomed. Nowadays, we often get this feeling from being present on social media. Who doesn’t know this thrill of anticipating comments and likes (or hearts) after uploading a holiday photo or some important news? According to Adam Alter, PhD in social psychology and a lecturer at New York University, addiction to “likes” works like a drug: we want more and more. The brain reads it exactly that way. There’s an element of uncertainty in this process and that’s why it’s so stimulating. Will I get a comment? How many friends will click on the thumb and how many on the heart? Imagine knowing in advance how many likes you would get. Boring, isn’t it?
Information detox can also be helped by plugins which monitor your time spent on social media (you might be surprised and it works shockingly well!), or the ones that block access to them altogether.
How can nature help us detox? Apparently, reducing the time of our exposure to colour electronic light has a beneficial effect on our nervous system and sleep-wake rhythm. Our daily production of melatonin, which is responsible for the circadian rhythm, is disrupted by exposure to so-called blue light (from smartphones and computers). There was a study conducted in Japan on two groups of people. The first group was recommended to walk for two hours in nature on weekends, while the second group did not receive any instructions. In the walking group, the participants observed that their sleep lengthened by 50 minutes, while its quality and depth significantly improved. Our eyes also love being exposed to the green colour, which prevails in nature, as often as possible. Looking at plants increases the activity of alpha brain waves, responsible for relaxation and regeneration. By giving up the use of electronics at least for a while and going to the forest instead we activate our parasympathetic nervous system and induce a state of relaxation and calmness in our body and mind. So isn’t it worthwhile to spend at least a short time in nature every day, and thus take care of our own well-being?
- Babik Wiesław, „Ekologia informacji”, Jagiellonian University Press
- Stefanowicz Bogdan, „Metafory informacyjne”, Wiadomości Statystyczne. The Polish Statistician, 2019, vol. 64, 7, 48–55
- Tadeusiewicz Ryszard (1999b): Smog informacyjny. Prace Komisji Zagrożeń Cywilizacyjnych, Polska Akademia Umiejętności, vol. 2, pp. 97–107
- Daniel J. Levitin – The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Penguin Group
- Morita E., Imai M., Okawa M et al. A before and after comparison of the effects of forest walking on the sleep of a community-based sample of people with sleep complaints. Biopsychosoc.Med.2011,5,13.
- https://businessinsider.com.pl/lifestyle/jak-lajki-w-mediach-spolecznosciowych-wplywaja-na-mozg/0f5nmyf (access on 1/04/2022)