Information is addictive. Yes, constant information – e.g. your work email always up and running, FaceBook or Twitter notifications beeping on your phone every 5 seconds, and 24×7 news available everywhere you look – can have the same impact on your brain as caffeine. Like caffeine, the right amount can get you going and make you productive. But also like caffeine, too much information and you could fly through life like a hyperactive ferret unable to focus and retain what is important.
What happens to your brain with Facebook notifications, your boss’ constant emails, or the countdown-to-election-day timers in the corner of the news screen? The bright flashing light, scrolling feeds on a screen, and constant pings on a phone will create a short, but immediate high. The brain is excited. But too much of a high is not a good thing and can lead to an inability to bring clarity or focus to life or work.
With a constant stream of information available we aren’t able to focus on any one thing. Instead we try to pay attention to many things at once (tweets from who we are following, the bright blinking lights on a TV or computer), but in doing so we could be reacting and missing the opportunity to learn from events around us and make decisions from it.
How can we slow down enough to absorb, process, and respond to information, instead of just reacting to it? For those who practice it, mindfulness can help. If you are the type who responds to every FB post or email, try turning off your notification function and blocking out time to respond once a day (I promise you won’t miss anything). And when it comes to how we get our news, try mixing it up a bit. For example, if you watch your news, try mixing it up and just listening to a podcast (rather than watch it) without any visual stimulation or distraction. I do not want to go back to the days when we all gathered around the television and watched the evening news, but there is merit in finding a brain-friendly midpoint of news and information.