There’s more content on the web than we know what to do with. It’s a never-ending fire hose of information, spewing facts, statistics, stories and infographics. I think we’re all suffering from information overload.
Jump on LinkedIn and you’ll find a multitude of articles that will teach you the top ten ways to improve your networking skills, or the insider secret to leadership that will produce results. Browse a little more and you’ll end up with more expert advice than you can physically handle, on every topic from SEO to IPO.
But there’s a point that we need to stop the influx of information.
It used to be that we could take in information at our own pace, and apply said information as we learn. However, because of the sheer amount of information we’re exposed to every day, we need to be very selective.
Remember the days when you had to check out an encyclopedia from the library to research a topic? Or search through microfilms to discover the information about a long lost scientific study?
Now the encyclopedia is a tale we tell our kids of days gone by, because we have so many more resources available within seconds:
- Streaming video/audio sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Audible.com
- Resources in the millions like case studies, webinars, blogs, e-books, how to guides, journals, white papers, podcasts and more.
- Online encyclopedias (Wikipedia & others)
- Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram
- News – in the form of apps, websites, online and offline
- e-learning platforms like Lynda, Skillshare, and teamtreehouse.com among many others
- Google/Bing/Yahoo to search everything else we haven’t found yet!
But is all of this “information” making us smarter? Or have we become lost in a sea of how to’s, top 10s, and secret guides to the universe?
An article in the Atlantic that dates back to 2008 discusses an interesting point — whether or not Google is making us stupid. After all, our symbiotic relationship to a connected, informative universe is literally reprogramming the connections within our brain. It’s affecting how we process information, our perception of our own knowledge, and our individual attention spans. Just look at how we compare to a goldfish for pete’s sake.
But one may also argue that our connectivity is creating a world in which we are more obsessed the idea of knowledge more than the work it takes to actually develop knowledge.
Are we misleading ourselves to think that we know something when we simply know OF something?
With a lack of inquisitive discussion, questioning, and application, we can’t truly know something. You can know about marriage, what it takes to make a marriage work, and the common challenges one might face in building a happy marriage. But until you’ve been married, that information doesn’t become real. It’s something you know of, but it’s not something you know.
Experiences and application create a connection between what we’ve read and what we know. David Weinberger, co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, and the author, most recently, of Too Big to Know, reinforces this point in a post from 2010 on HBR.org:
We get “actionable” knowledge by having desires and curiosity, through plotting and play, by being wrong more often than right, by talking with others and forming social bonds, by applying methods and then backing away from them, by calculation and serendipity, by rationality and intuition, by institutional processes and social roles. Knowledge is not determined by information, for it is the knowing process that first decides which information is relevant, and how it is to be used.
Weinberger’s comments further illustrate the popularity of the “fail forward” mentality, embracing failure as a learning tool in the quest for higher level learning.
I recently spoke with an intern at a startup who couldn’t believe the difference between learning about PR in her marketing class, and having to actually work to earn press coverage from a major media outlet. It only took her 73 emails. And with each of those emails she gained knowledge on better ways to pitch her story.
In light of this approach, we should consider all of the information we’ve read or listened to in the last 30 days. This list might encompass hundreds of emails, blogs, podcasts, videos, articles and ebooks, among other things.
But if you took a step back to analyze your behavior, one has to ask — how many of these resources have you taken the time to apply?
I have read hundreds of articles on time management. And yet, I still find myself reading the same tips that I have yet to implement.
Do yourself a favor this week.
Don’t read any more blogs. Don’t listen to any more podcasts. Don’t watch any more webinars or videos.
Instead, focus on reviewing the last few pieces of information you consumed. Choose 3 points of application. And make your knowledge real. Conquer information overload once and for all.