It's July 2023, Planet Earth.
Technology is evolving faster than ever.
It's hard to even breathe some Oxygen without inhaling along some new piece of information.
Emails are piling up, and articles are being written at a record pace. Social Media is flooding your phone with messages and notifications, and every week, AI creates hundreds of new opportunities.
It's just impossible to keep up.
Or so it seems.
At the very least, it's impossible to keep up without some solid backup.
But before we explore a much-needed backup, let's first take a deep breath and understand what's even happening to the world we live in.
How is the world different?
What are some solutions to deal with this overwhelming new world?
The Exponential Increase in Information.
Technology is developing at a very fast pace.
Just to mention a few advancements, there is Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Transformers, Internet of Things, and ChatGPT.
And these are just the beginning of an explosive era of growth and development.
It's hard to understand what this development looks like, but luckily, there's data to back this up. Actually, "data" is the best metric to illustrate this phenomenon.
Every day, the world creates 328,770,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data .
A very big number, right?
That's 0.328 Zettabytes or 328 billion Gigabytes. This is more than 41 Gigabytes per person per day, which would be more than recording all the 24h of your day in 1080p HD resolution.
It's hard to imagine such a big number, so let's look at a graph.
(Please note that the graph starts in 2010, when the internet was already highly used. This graph would be ridiculous if it started in 1910.)
Does this remind you of anything?
If you are anything of a maths geek as I am, you know this is an exponential growth.
But even the math geeks around the world can't truly understand the impact of exponential growth in our lives.
Einstein, arguably the geekiest of all, put it into simple and powerful words:
“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” – Albert Einstein
In short, the human race does not understand the effects of the exponential function and humans were not designed to deal with exponential anything, at least according to Einstein, a physicist, not a cognitive scientist.
Either way, let me illustrate this point.
Imagine going from 1 child to 10 children instead of 2. Then 100 children instead of 3, then 1,000 children instead of 4.
Terrific, heh? 🙎🏻🙎🏻🙎🏻🙎🏻🙎🏻🙎🏻🙎🏻🙎🏻🙎🏻
This is what exponential looks like.
And this is exactly what humanity is facing right now with information.
Brilliant minds are already aware of this, such as Google's Director and best-selling author of 4 books, Ray Kurzweil:
“The future will be far more surprising than most people realize. Few observers have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.” – Ray Kurzweil
Here is the definition of "exponential":
An increasing trend becoming more and more rapid.
What Kurzweil is describing is exactly, and by definition, exponential growth. And as Einstein warned us, anything that is exponential brings serious challenges to humanity.
This huge problem calls for novel perspectives and solutions.
“Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world. — Lauren Bacall
If we are to pose a chance against this rapidly changing world, we must do something different.
How To Solve Information Overload
It's hard to even propose a solution to such a complex problem.
But luckily, we can rely on Occam's Razor.
Occam's Razor states that you should always choose the simplest explanations and solutions instead of complex ones.
With this in mind, here is a very simple, and profound, solution to handle an exponential increase in information:
• ↑ Increase capacity of handling information.
• ↓ Decrease exposure to external information.
But remember, this is an exponential issue.
To solve the situation, we must have a 10x increase in the capacity to handle information and a 10x decrease in exposure to information.
But dealing with 10x changes is not something we're used to.
"10x is qualitative, not quantitative—it’s about different and better, not more." – Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan
In summary, you can't do more of what you're already doing.
Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan, co-authors of the book "10X Is Easier Than 2X", explain that to achieve 10X growth (or decrease), you must change your approach.
You won't achieve 10X change by doing more of what you already do.
You must do things you never did before.
Let's explore the proposed solutuions through this lens.
↑ Increase Capacity to Handle Information
This first point is our gateway to one of the most fascinating theories I've studied:
The Extended Mind Thesis is a Hypothesis outlined by Andy Clark and David Chalmers, in a 1998 paper that presents a revolutionary definition for human cognition.
It states the following:
Human cognition (mind) is a combination of internal AND external entities that interact with one another.
Human cognition is not limited to your brain, it is rather a coupled system: brain + environment.
In other words, your internal mind is extended by the external world you interact with, including maps, walls, phones, and digital apps.
I find it very hard to argue against this hypothesis, as the external world has a great influence on how we think and act. This is undeniable.
What the hypothesis does is officialize the influence of the external world as an active part of human cognition itself, not as an external unrelated force.
This gives us leverage to play with.
"Why?" – you may ask.
Well, when you embrace the external environment as part of your cognition, you can use it in your favor.
You Take Control of your Extended Mind.
To do so, there are several practices such as a Second Brain, a Knowledge Management System, or a Digital Garden.
The core idea behind these practices is to send information you currently hold in your mind and store it on a trusted external source.
In essence, you are creating an External Collection of Knowledge.
"External" here simply means it is outside your brain, it's an "external entity" in the Extended Mind Thesis.
These practices extend your mental capacities by upgrading the external entities that your mind interacts with.
You can deal with more information than before.
Because your brain is no longer the bottleneck.
"Your brain is no longer the bottleneck on your potential, which means you have all the bandwidth you need to pursue any endeavor and make it successful." – Tiago Forte
You have extended your mind to handle more information.
↓ Decrease Exposure to External Information
Not only it is necessary to improve our ability to process information, but we also need to remove some input.
Let's be honest here.
You need to remove A LOT of input.
You won't deal with an avalanche of information just by using a couple of apps to extend your cognition.
Your attention is being constantly bombarded. Unfortunately, this is the current business model of thousands of companies worldwide. Their goal is to grab a little chunk of your attention. And then another one.
And so on...
It's crucial to protect yourself.
It's crucial to protect your thoughts.
You will never be able to consume everything you find online, and trying to do so will harm your productivity and your mental health.
It's important to create filters, to protect your attention, to avoid the noise and protect your ability to think clearly.
Here are 2 concepts that can help in this process:
Pieces of Information Have Different Levels of Value.
There's an extremely powerful concept you can use to reclaim your attention.
Half-Life is a metric of how Future-Proof the information is.
Measures how much time it takes for an information's value to reach HALF of the initial value.
The term "half-life" comes from Chemistry. The higher the half-life of an element, the more radioactive it is, the longer it takes to decay.
Low half-life information gets irrelevant in days, hours or minutes. These are all over social media and news sites. Things like 'ultimate hacks', 'breaking news' gossip, online fights, rants, unimportant events, and shallow content.
High half-life information gets irrelevant in years, decades or even centuries. These are harder to find, historical books, incredible articles, spiritual wisdom, mental models, works of art, or deep pondering.
The awareness of an information's half-life is extremely powerful.
You can question yourself while reading something: "What's the half-life of this information?"
If you notice a high-value information, you capture it to your extended mind.
If you notice it is low-value information, you can stop.
Consciously or unconsciously, you're making a choice of the information you let into your mind.
It's wise to make a conscious decision.
Replace Low-Value Information.
"You don't eliminate a bad habit, you replace it." – James Clear
To stop mindless consumption, replace it with something active.
And active doesn't mean it's agitated. Active means deliberate.
You can consciously consume information with a longer half-life, or maybe practice a physical or rhythmic skill, and best-of-all, replace it with silence.
“Everything that’s created comes out of silence. Thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Words come out of the void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness.” – Wayne Dyer
"Silence is the root of everything. If you spiral into its void a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear." – Rumi
"Silence" has been forgotten in the 21st century.
Isn't it funny? Exactly when it's needed the most...
Silence is a key solution to handle information overflow.
If you don't stop consuming, you'll never truly be present with your thoughts, and never really stop to think about what you've read.
When your attention is under constant harassment, it's like there's a mental fog around your mind. That makes it impossible to think clearly and blocks ideas from finding you.
But silence reduces this mental fog.
Silence allows you to witness your own thoughts.
Silence invites personal reflections and your best ideas.
And finally, some basic math would show that to exponentially (10X) reduce the information you consume, silence is really useful.
Now it's time to wrap up the ideas we've talked about today.
I'm sure Mr. William of Ockham (philosopher behind Occam's Razor) will forgive me for doing this with a final, more complex solution to information overload:
• ↑ Increase exposure to your extended mind.
Increase the time actively engaging with your extended mind
It's also a calm space where you think in silence.
You think about your ideas, elaborate on a couple of them, and capture new ones.
Your extended mind has information with a high half-life. This makes it a rich place to think about interesting and valuable topics, while being able to register your thoughts.
It's a great way to deliberately think deeply about things.
You may have noticed that this final solution is a combination of the other two. That's because simultaneously, you:
• Increase the ability to handle information with your extended mind.
• Decrease exposure to the external information, considering your extended mind is part of your cognition.
So that's the epitome of today's reflection.
These solutions are powerful guiding principles to help you deal with information overload.
Now it's up to you to apply these principles in your life.
Reevaluate your information diet, seek silence to think deeply, and leverage an extended mind to help you become a more effective thinker.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fis Fraga is a digital writer and creator, he helps people cultivate a productive and fulfilling life using the help of Knowledge Management and Systems Thinking. You can learn more about Fis Fraga's work at: https://www.fisfraga.com