Help, Information Is Killing Me!

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For August 22nd weekender, 2015

 Help! Information is Killing Me: What Should I Think?

David W. Hegg

It has been said we are presented with more new information every day than Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century theologian and president of Princeton did in his lifetime. If you think you are inundated with news, opinions, and posts, and often feel awash in social media, texts, notifications, and advertisements, you are absolutely right. The tsunami of ultra-modern technology driven information washes over us everyday with relentless vigor, turning our lives into a constant decision-making exercise. Every few seconds we must decide how to respond to the constant flow of information that just seems unending.

Here are a few suggestions for keeping up with the times while maintaining your sanity amid the flood of texts, emails, notifications, news media, and the myriad opinions of friend and foe alike:

Regarding Social Media, texts, emails, etc:

1. Just because someone texts, emails, or calls you doesn’t mean you have to accept their interruption: If I don’t let others spend my money, why would I let them be in charge of my time? The drip, drip, drip of being technologically available to the world has conditioned us to think we have to respond to everyone’s decision to reach out and touch us. Hear me: you don’t have to be interrupted!

 2. Except for emergency situations, train yourself NOT to respond to interruptions right away. I know it is gratifying to look at your phone or Apple Watch and see someone wants your attention. But every time you look, and even more when you take time to respond, you break the flow you’ve got going in the present task. Perhaps even more important, changing thought processes rapidly has actually been shown to breed stress in the body and mind. I find it very helpful to silence my phone and put it at a distance, with notifications off while concentrating on other projects. Then, I set a time to check messages and respond as necessary. Dealing with texts, emails, and notifications becomes a scheduled task rather than an unscheduled interruption.

 Regarding News Media, Articles, Speeches, etc:

1. Not everything you read is true: As a college professor I do not accept Internet research as viable for my assigned research papers unless it comes from recognized organization whose materials are peer reviewed. The reason? Anyone can start a website, name it anything they want, and put articles and opinions on there without any academic pedigree. And don’t get me started on Facebook, or any of the junk magazines that have proliferated on the net. Just because you read it somewhere doesn’t make it true. Just because you agree with it, doesn’t make it true. Just because some article or post puts your opponent in a bad light doesn’t make it true. Test everything and hold fast to what you know to be true. And never give up what you know for sure to believe something you can never know for sure.

2. Consider the Source: By that I mean ask critical questions regarding the source of the material you are receiving. Is the author reputable? Does he or she have a past record of honesty, diligence, and expertise? If it is a book, are there academic reviews of it by reputable experts in the field? If it is a news organization, are they really balanced and fair in their reporting? Are you getting the facts or are you getting someone’s interpretation of the facts? Above all, be a critical thinker rather than a gullible groupie when analyzing information so that you don’t end up chasing error over a cliff.

Lastly:

Wait To Worry: So much of the information we encounter is shaped to create a sense of urgency on our part. From “needing” to get the newest smart phone to “needing” to support a cause that is going to save America from annihilation or worse, we are constantly bombarded with facts and opinions meant to drive us into a flurry of panic-driven activity. Don’t fall for it. Take the time to think things through, to hear both sides, to query others with expertise or experience. And above all, know who you are, what you believe, and why your basic ethical convictions matter.

As the tumultuous current of information cascades all around us dragging us down the river of ultra-modern society, don’t be afraid to climb up out of the water and take a time out on the bank. The world will continue on without you for a while, and most of what you miss ultimately won’t matter anyway. And while you’re waiting to get back in, take time to breathe and remember that technology was actually meant to make our lives simpler, richer and happier. Believe me … I dare you.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at Freedigitalphotos.net