DIGITAL MELTDOWN: How we should all learn to switch off digital

Infobesity. Such a brilliant word for digital overload.

It’s true using the internet is like taking a cup to a fire hydrant.

Think you’ll get on top of everything?

You won’t.

So pace yourself.


It’s dawning on me that I need to make some time to get to know a small area well.

It’s also clear to me that switching off from digital tools from time to time is vital. To recharge. To think. Heck, even to take your six-year-old to the Stoke City club shop to buy him a scarf.

Here’s two excellent pieces that made me stop and think.

In the first posted on the superbly titled Think Quarterly, Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist talks of the amount of digital content. You can read the original here.

In 2010, the human race created 800 exabytes of information.

To put that into context, between the dawn of civilisation and 2003, we only created five exabytes; now we’re creating that amount every two days.

Data is like food, says Varian. “We used to be calorie poor and now the problem is obesity. We used to be data poor, now the problem is data obesity.”

For businesses that are gorging on a surfeit of information, Varian says the fix is clear. It’s the same for data as food: “You need to focus on quality. You’ll be better off with a small but carefully structured sample rather than a large sloppy sample,” he says. More locally sourced fine dining, then, less all-you-can-eat buffet.

Oliver Bukeman in The Guardian’s the SXSWi round-up brought this wake-up call to overwork:

A related danger of the merging of online and offline life, says business thinker Tony Schwartz, is that we come to treat ourselves, in subtle ways, like computers.

We drive ourselves to cope with ever-increasing workloads by working longer hours, sucking down coffee and spurning recuperation.

But “we were not meant to operate as computers do,” Schwartz says.

“We are meant to pulse.” When it comes to managing our own energy, he insists, we must replace a linear perspective with a cyclical one: “We live by the myth that the best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.”

Schwartz cites research suggesting that we should work in periods of no greater than 90 minutes before seeking rest.

Whatever you might have been led to imagine by the seeping of digital culture into every aspect of daily life – and at times this week in Austin it was easy to forget this – you are not, ultimately, a computer.

Join the Conversation


  1. Great blog Dan.

    I’m a fan of Oliver Burkeman’s column, this column will change your life in Saturdays Guardian is wonderful.

    I try (sometimes in vain!) to have one computer free day a week to avoid Infobesity!


  2. We fill our capacity to worry with worry. In other words, if we had nothing to worry about, we’d find something to worry about.

    Same with work and stress.

    We want to do too much, because there is so much to do, and so many things to miss out on. Therefore, to reduce the risk of missing out on something really good, we try and do everything – and probably actually achieve very little.

    Your point about focussing on something is the key one, for me.

    The internet is a very, very powerful tool – in the same way that a pneumatic drill can easily take your foot off, but is invaluable in repairing leaking pipes under the road.

    Decide what you want to do first. Use the internet well to do it well.

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