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.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD: And one way to tackle it

Do me a favour, would you? Stop. Just for a second and relax.I don’t want you to finish this blog more tense than you started.

Three things dawned on me today as a blizzard of amazing links poured through my Twitter stream.

One. My brain was capsizing. And I was starting to get tense.

Two. There are only 24 hours in a day and you only have one pair of hands. You can’t know it all.

Three. The answer became clear. Do one thing at a time. Bit like my Grandad did growing things on an allotment.

The scale and velocity of social media is exciting, inspiring and frightening.

“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload,” said Marshall McLuhan.

“There’s always more than you can cope with.”

He died in 1980. And all he had to deal with were three TV channels that finished at midnight and Pong. Lucky man.

I quitelike this one, too. “Getting information from the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” Mitchell Kapor said that.

Information overload? Here’s me. I’m following 500 people on Twitter. I try to keep up. I do. Really.

Oh, and Right now I’d like to know more of geotagging, Foursquare, smartphones, Flip, Google maps, podcasting and Facebook.

I know it can’t all be done.

This is exactly why people who call themselves ‘social media experts’ are not. Because you simply can’t be.

So what? Here’s my answer. Be good at something rather than a dabbler in everything.

It’s okay not know everything. Why? Because you can’t. And besides, nobody likes a know-all.

Do one project at a time. One month at a time. Make it a good one. Understand it. Then maybe move on.

I forget where I heard that, but it’s a brilliant, brilliant piece of advice.

Philip John is good at WordPress because he has spent time on it.

Bristol Editor is good at blogging about journalism for the same reason.

And Liz Azyan with LGEO Research and Dave Briggs knows local government because she has knows her onions.

Sarah Lay got good at Google maps because she spent a bit of time on it. And listened to how Stuart Harrison did it.

Specialise. Relax. Have a little corner allotment plot of the digital universe and take time to grow something good there.

As my Grandad once said, do potatoes first. Watch them grow. Get good at them. THEN try something a bit trickier. Like carrots. Then try artichokes. Before you know it you’ve got a thriving corner of produce. You can try to be Sainsbury’s. You’ll fail. It’ll be more fun being an allotment market gardener with this stuff.

One step at a time.

Okay? Feel a bit better now?

Main pic credit: Will Lion

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