A Word to the Wise About Noise
Remember the Information Superhighway?
Hundreds of TV channels. Thousands of radio stations. The world at your fingertips through a telephone line. Information any time, any where, any how. It was a promise of things to come, and it came. With a vengeance.
10 years after the vision of the Info Highway was created, it’s now ingrained in just about every aspect of our lives and culture. We are connected in ways we never thought possible. Amazing things are happening because of these connections. We have access to any information we want, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We don’t just have one or two sources anymore. We have hundreds of thousands, millions of ways to receive information. It’s wonderful, and as both a media producer and a media consumer, every day I am more amazed and more excited about the possibilities that new media holds.
500 TV channels, 1000 stations on satellite radio, and millions of web sites all vie for a piece of our attention. Compare this to just 35 years ago, when I lived in a place that had one – count ’em – ONE – television channel, and on a good day, one radio station. Granted, I was in a small, isolated town, but I know that I am not too far off the mark when I say that we live in an era where information has absolutely exploded.
I honestly think that the information revolution is a really good thing. We are more aware, more connected, and more tuned in than ever before. I wouldn’t have made media my career if I wasn’t genuinely excited about where it’s going. However, all this ready access to information has one serious by-product.
There’s a whole lotta noise.
Ever flip through your 500 TV channels and find absolutely nothing you want to watch? I’m sure the same thing happens with your satellite radio, or the 100 podcasts you have downloaded on your player. Add that to the flood of emails in your inbox, the steady stream of Instant Messages, tweets, Facebook updates, and the 1000+ blogs you have yet to read in your Google Reader, and all of a sudden, all that wonderful information starts to become a royal pain in the butt.
The easy solution is to just turn it off, go read a book or spend some time with your kids. But the more you turn off, the more the channels just fill up and fill up. It’s like that pot of potatoes you left simmering on the stove. It’s boiling away, gentle, manageable, then all of a sudden it boils over, and the only thing you can do is rush over and save it before it makes a giant mess.
In other words, it’s not so easy for us to turn it off. These days, we all have a ton of inbound information, and many of us spew out our own fair share as well. The problem is that the more inbound information we have, the more noise gets jammed in there. We feel a sudden urge to purge our friends and followers lists, delete all but about 10 of our favourite blogs, and cancel our cable TV. But we percieve a big problem with doing that.
We might miss something.
WE MIGHT MISS SOMETHING. Heaven forbid, if we miss that oh so clever tweet from Mr. or Ms. Popular that everyone else found so amusing. Shame on us if we aren’t hung on every discussion about the Obama inauguration. Gosh golly gee whiz if we don’t see the link to the latest, biggest news event the INSTANT everyone else does.
Our human nature makes us prone to distraught feelings if we are left out of something. We always desire to be “in the loop”, “up on the latest”, or “fully informed”. That’s why we get copied on so many inane email trails and our inboxes are bursting. It’s why we have cable TV with 500 channels. It’s why we check our social networks ALL the time. The more we are afraid we are going to miss something, the more we get sucked into the noise. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
I have a solution for you. It’s really simple, like most good solutions are. You ready?
YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT ALL OF IT.
People often ask me how I manage to follow nearly 1,700 people on Twitter and subscribe to over 200 blogs (and I’m small potatoes compared to some). They want to know how I can read all those tweets and blog posts every day, and still have time to actually do work.
Well, for starters, I don’t read every post and every tweet. There are only 24 hours in MY day too! I have perfected the art of skimming. I scan my feeds when I have time, and if something catches my attention I read it. If I’m so inspired, I post a comment or reply. Sometimes I get into conversations. Many times I don’t, because I’m too busy doing other things. As for my inbox, I am so heavily filtered now that only about 30% of the total email I receive goes into my actual inbox. The noise is put aside until I have the time to pay attention to it.
This is an amazing time in which we live. Information is everywhere, and it’s mostly a good thing. But it can get the best of us, if we don’t know how to use it. Ulitmately, it’s up to you what information you choose to consume and what noise you choose to filter. But stop being afraid you’re going to miss something. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that if you remain open and focused, the information you need will come to you just about right when you need it. And at the end of the day, you’ll be firmly in the loop in just the way you need to be.