Monday, 30 August 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler
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Surely we’ve reached the stage of Information Dyspepsia. Thanks to that old movie Midnight Cowboy, and Harry Nilsson’s haunting lyrics, ‘Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying …’ are turning in my brain.

We’ve had information overload for a while – the term was popularised in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler in his landmark book Future Shock. More recent researchers agree: we all take in so much stuff these days that we don’t have time to think it through. We’re not digesting it!


Instead, pressured, busy, confused, we brush it all away with cynicism and anger. “Information out the door, can’t be dealing with you,” is our mental response. We have Information Dyspepsia.
 

There is a danger in this techno-disease. And that is by not digesting, or processing, information we can end up making very poor choices – in everything from fast food to governments.

Take our recent elections in Australia for example. (The result, by the way, was a hung parliament and current horse-trading at time of writing suggests we’ll have a minority government.) One of the big problems in the election campaign leading up to the poll was lack of clarity, a botch of conflicting information flung at us and often sensationalised by the media. Numbers of people I spoke to said, “They’re all the same. It doesn’t matter which one you choose.”

For those who had time to read, and consider, the policies of the major parties this was clearly untrue. They proposed quite different things. Each major party had strengths and weaknesses, but on many issues they diverged greatly. So how was it that so many people failed to see this?

Information Dyspepsia is my diagnosis. Thinking “too much information, can’t deal with all that,” probably led many voters to cynicism and indecision. All our opinion polls – and there were many, adding to the information overload – agreed that cynicism and indecision were at record highs.

Of course both major parties added to the problem by loading us with fresh announcements, new statements, daily press conferences, extra baby kissing and photo opportunities in hard hats. They piled on the information overload and their policies floundered amongst the floss.

Friends, simple is best. Politicians should heed this lesson. And maybe we should think about simplifying our own lives.

Consuming information to the point of feeling cross and bloated because we can’t deal with it is no way to live. One recent Australian study I read found that using a bigger computer screen so you could see more easily and sit back more comfortably had a beneficial effect on concentration. That sounds worthwhile, but it’s a partial answer.

The same research suggested that turning off the TV and radio and concentrating on one thing at a time also improved efficiency and lowered stress.


Let’s consider TV. This is a good example of More is Less. A whole day in front of the sitcoms and the re-runs is enough to turn any thinking human being into an apathetic jelly reaching for a high-fat pizza.

Surely email, cell phones and Twitter should be scrutinised too. Are you hooked on these? A junkie? Are they cluttering up your life and eroding your concentration?
The underlying message from numerous surveys is that Less is More. So let’s be selective about what we read and watch so we take in good information and give ourselves time to digest it.


It used to be that communing with nature was a great way to cleanse the soul and ease the mind. It still is. We people are designed to be healed by nature: fresh air, trees, the sea. And while I preach on this, I need to take my own advice and get away from my computer more often too.

And I’m making a resolution right now to reach for the remote control, switch off the same-old-same on TV and get out into the garden. The sun is shining; it’s beautiful out there. There will be enough time to get my thoughts in order.



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