Information Overload and the Tale of the Deadly Pear

Creative Commons by Krzysztof Puszczyński

Creative Commons by Krzysztof Puszczyński

My pear tried to kill me this morning.  I was driving to work and was, ironically, listening to a segment on NPR about their “Infomagical challenge”–all about removing distractions.  Just as I rounded the corner into school, my pear, precariously placed on the middle console, leapt forward and rolled under my break pedal.  Luckily, I watched a ton of Rescue 911 when I was a kid and was very prepared for this moment.  Two of my childhood fears were water bottles rolling under brake pedals and playing near ravines just as the town opened the dam somewhere a mile away.   I was very fortunate to be at an empty intersection, so I kicked the pear away and leaned down to grab it.  I am now eating this pear–as revenge.

This post isn’t about beating myself up for terrible driving, but more about introducing you to the Infomagical Challenge on NPR’s show Note to Self.    The millions of tasks I tried to focus on during my commute, almost kept me from doing the one thing I was supposed to do–drive safely to work.  The video on this link is particularly interesting.  Overall, this 5-day challenge asks you to observe what happens when you cut out certain parts of information-overload habits.  For example, it challenges us to recognize our urges to multi-task or our obsession with memes and trending material on social media.  It turns out that the habitual part of our brain keeps us clicking and scrolling, long after the flexible part of of brain, the hippocampus, runs out of steam.  And so we actually train ourselves to stay engaged online, instead of allowing ourselves to process selected information.

As an artist with goal overload–getting in a show, paying off my debt, writing on my blog, building a new website, writing a book, keeping up with my full-time job–I have a major problem with information overload as well.  Add a layer of career pressure on top of that, and you have a guilt-stricken, stressed-out, distracted person who is only partially doing any of these tasks.  And heaven knows if I’m doing any of them well.  And so it’s even more important for people in creative careers to find a way to dig through all this information–memes and goal-oriented tasks alike–to actually get to what matters.

I find I have days when I close my browser with Playbill, The Financial Diet, my two email accounts, my website editor, my two calendars, and god-knows-what-else up, all getting a tiny fraction of my attention.  And I  leave feeling like I have done nothing.  I sprint home to grab my gym clothes, all the while looking up stuff to make for dinner.  When I get to the end of the night, I have half-assed a whole bunch of things, and finished nothing.  At this rate, my travel website will launch when the internet is obsolete and we are all communicating telepathically.  I realize this is nothing compared to people with kids, but the point of this NPR challenge is to figure out what we can cut out so that our activities are more valuable.  Just in the process of writing this blog post, I’ve tried to complete about 15 unrelated tasks.

So how do we combat this? Well, for me, unless it is work-related, I am trying to leave emails unopened, texts unanswered, and Facebook closed for at least 20 minutes while I try to complete something that needs creative or super-focused attention.  Otherwise, the end of each sentence is an opportunity to go see how someone responded to my status or email.  Also, I can’t keep track of a damn thing.  As I take this time away from the full-time acting scene, I see these auditions fly by and know that in a few years, I would have wished I had found a way to organize  a game plan or audition schedule when I actually had the downtime to do so.  And so this new organizational challenge is not just timely, but part of a larger picture.

So what can be removed?  What information is actually taking me away from feeling calmer, less cluttered, and well, a little  less numb every day?  I don’t want to cut out the adorable videos my husband sends me about birds and horses cuddling at the local zoo, nor do I want to cut out recipes and blogs.  Those bring me joy and help me feel I have work/life balance.  I also don’t want to cut out my financial articles, since those ground me as well.

So what is it?  It’s the all sites that give me Fear of Missing Out syndrome.  The travel sites, the audition lists (at least ones that I can’t currently go on), Facebook, and Pinterest.  Pinterest ends up being a long list of “this is what I want my home to look like” which turns into “Who the hell keeps their house that clean anyway” moment, in which I clear my desk with a swift swing of my arm in a fit of rage.  My Facebook feed (as seen by someone with anxiety) is basically one long post about winning the Master of the Universe Award in Theatre, or about something stupid Donald Trump said.  And travel sites are just me believing that one day I will come across a flight listed for zero dollars, in which I say, “Wow, a free trip!  So glad I kept digging through Kayak to find this!  Grab your passport, Ben!”

There has been a whole slew of detoxing-talk on this blog lately.  And it makes you wonder, if you’re detoxing from practically everything (sugar, laziness, judgement, stupid articles) what is left??  Am I becoming a white-bread shell of a person?  Well, that’s the fun game, isn’t it?  I guess we’ll find out.  Either I will finish this detox as an uninformed, boring, goal-obsessed, tired person, or perhaps I will something else to fill the space.

In the meantime, I will focus on eating this evil pear.

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5 thoughts on “Information Overload and the Tale of the Deadly Pear

    • Very true! There are definitely some fantastic things on Pinterest. I think I just need to start changing up which boards I follow. Definitely got a little too into the home decorating stuff for a bit. But recipes are also fabulous!

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  1. In my travels toward a less stressed life, I’ve started thinking about my own “Infomagical” being. Stuff that works for me: I turned off all notifications on my phone, including text sounds, so that only my phone rings. Then I have specific times when I check various things, instead of being interrupted and distracted. I also don’t look at any social media at work (a resolve aided by educational firewalls) and then usually am so busy at home that I only have 15 or so minutes to check/catch up. It helps a lot from getting stuck in the rabbit hole or get too sucked into FOMO. (Though that def still happens)

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    • That’s a really good point. I find that my phone buzzing starts to drive me crazy, so I should try some of these as well. And setting aside a short period of time to catch up on social media each day is a good plan. Thanks, honey!

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  2. Pingback: How Diane Lane Narrating My Life Became This Blog | Maybe there will be cupcakes...

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