I don't know about you, but I'm constantly playing catch up with my RSS feeds (over 200), have multiple books that I've jumped in to but never finished next to the bed, and have a rotation of a few magazines alwasy lying around, for those times when a mobile phone, iTouch, BlackBerry or the laptop isn't around.
In other words, I'm a hopeless info-junkie who is generally failing miserably in figuring out how to best allocate my time and attention.
This interesting article from the Wall Street Journal made me feel a bit better, though.
Apparently, we're hard-wired for limited information, and we're just beginning to figure out and adapt to the constant onslaught we're facing today.
coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.
It is something we seem hard-wired to do, says Dr. Biederman. When you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those. You might call us 'infovores.' "
For most of human history, there was little chance of overdosing on information, because any one day in the Olduvai Gorge was a lot like any other. Today, though, we can find in the course of a few hours online more information than our ancient ancestors could in their whole lives.
Just like the laser and the cat, technology is playing a trick on us. We are programmed for scarcity and can't dial back when something is abundant.
[From what I've read elsewhere, there are generally two schools of thought on how we are adapting to new demands on our attention.
In one corner sits the school of "continuous partial attention" and concerns about attention deficit problems.
In the other is Stowe Boyd, who believes that attention deficit is an "invented disease", indicative of an old model of how we think. Stowe argues that our brains are doing just fine adapting to streams of information. We are constructing new ways of thinking, processing information and working (and these are grounded in flow, which is fascinating)
Here's a map from Stowe's blog, from Reboot last year, comparing the two points of view.
I don't really know if either (grossly over-simplified) position is 100% right, but it's probably important to continue to think about how we divide our attention. (Here's some more reading to get you on your way if you find this stuff interesting, by the way (via Russell). See, I'm throwing more reading your way, thus proving how slippery this slope can be!).
Of course, it's entirely possible that our perception of a lack of time leads to the very problems that we think we're guarding against, which only adds another confusing wrinkle to all of this!
From a recent article in the New York Times,
One in three Americans feels rushed all the time, according to one survey. Even the cleverest use of time-management techniques is powerless to augment the sum of minutes in our life (some 52 million, optimistically assuming a life expectancy of 100 years), so we squeeze as much as we can into each one.
Believing time is money to lose, we perceive our shortage of time as stressful. Thus, our fight-or-flight instinct is engaged, and the regions of the brain we use to calmly and sensibly plan our time get switched off. We become fidgety, erratic and rash.
Tasks take longer. We make mistakes — which take still more time to iron out. Who among us has not been locked out of an apartment or lost a wallet when in a great hurry? The perceived lack of time becomes real: We are not stressed because we have no time, but rather, we have no time because we are stressed.
Studies have shown the alarming extent of the problem: office workers are no longer able to stay focused on one specific task for more than about three minutes, which means a great loss of productivity. The misguided notion that time is money actually costs us money.
And it costs us time. People in industrial nations lose more years from disability and premature death due to stress-related illnesses like heart disease and depression than from other ailments. In scrambling to use time to the hilt, we wind up with less of it.