A lot of people are still struggling a lot with this whole social web thing. We are hyper connected – our smart phones are rarely out of reach. We’re bombarded with information 24/7, and have a hard time filtering (or we filter too much). And the problem is, we are losing a lot in the shuffle.

I firmly believe that the evolution of communication is slowing down. My fear is, if we slow down too much, we’re going to become stuck. There’s too much information, and sadly, it’s of the wrong kind. We’re giving up critical thinking and diving into the fishbowl because it’s easier and faster and we think we don’t have time for anything else. We’ve fallen victim to bad habits, and we’re addicted to information and mass consumption and brain candy and fluff. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else.

But like kicking any bad habit, there is a way out. By taking back control of what we consume, we can start on a new path.

The big purge.
A few weeks ago, I went on a rampage inside my Google Reader. I deleted ALL of my subscriptions in one fell swoop and started over. I decided that from here on in, I will only subscribe to sources that consistently make me think. No more fluff, no more “Top 72 Ways To…”. Only smart, compelling, thought provoking writers now make it into my stream. I still need to stay on top of tech news, so I subscribed to a few sources that provide consistently good, well researched, insightful information about trends and technologies.

The result is about 20 or so top quality sources that I look forward to reading every morning. I am finding so much smart stuff to read now, that I run out of time and end up saving a lot of stuff to read later (I love the Readability app for this).

Habit #1: Unsubscribe from anything that doesn’t provide you consistent, useful insights and tremendous value.

It’s a bit scary hitting “Unsubscribe” from everything. You’ll have that feeling that you are going to miss out on something. But you know what? The sources that I love made it back into the stream. The ones I forgot about weren’t meant to be there in the first place.

The small network.
I’ve been very intrigued by small networks lately. I find myself spending more and more time in smaller conversations, and I am really enjoying the level of insight and connection I get from experiences I’m having in some Facebook Groups, and even small conversations on Google+. I’ve also recently rejoined Path, where I am connecting with a super-small group of personal friends.

There’s a time and place for being able to connect with large groups of people. But I think the real gold is inside the small, super-connected networks. I learn more from interactions with a few than I ever do from being one of thousands.

Habit #2: Join some small networks.

Join or start a Facebook Group around something you’re passionate about. Try out Path (but keep your network there small and personal). I guarantee your experience will be richer and more thought provoking, and you’ll learn a lot about group dynamics that you can then translate to the larger experience.

I think the companies and individuals that are most successful online are the ones who figure out how to talk to many, but do it in a way that makes their audience feel like they’re one of a few. And that can only really happen by understanding what makes the small group tick.

The break.
Hyper-connectivity is putting many people at risk. On a daily basis you see people who are stressed out because their connection to their email and smart phone is constant. They can’t get away from work and down time seems like it’s not an option. People sleep with their phones and tablets next to the bed (guilty), and there’s a continuous stream of notifications coming at us from multiple directions.

It’s causing us to lose our focus, but more importantly it’s causing us to lose our ability to think. Just look at Facebook these days – it’s turned into a continuous flow of images with text on them – funny sayings, “inspirational” messages, and so on. It’s the junk food TV of the Internet.

Habit #3: Walk away from your devices and shut off all notifications.

An interesting thing happens when you take back control of how information is delivered to you, by putting down the device for a while and/or by shutting off notifications. You get your mind back. The space that’s created by not consuming the constant flow of information is a space where you’ll be able to absorb what’s really important and apply critical thinking to it. It will help you figure out how to deal with this new communication in a much more effective way. You’ll feel lighter and achieve more.

Ultimately, developing new habits around new communication is about taking back control of your online experience. Instead of letting it bombard you with mindless fluff, you’re spending time seeking out and consuming only the information that matters to you, with the groups of people that matter to you. At first, you’ll feel like you’re missing out. But trust me, after the new habits start to take hold, you’ll see the amazing benefits.

[photo by Ed Townend]

2 Responses

  1. I enjoy your articles very much, and the past few have especially resonated with me. As someone who grew up and prospered in a pre cell phone internet always connected era I have embraced each new wave of technology to stay current and informed. However, as an artist I feel I’m losing something vital to my being in this endless mind-numbing stream.

    After reading your post I immediately winnowed my feeds down to a few. In 1999 author David McCullough gave a commencement speech. He said, “Information isn’t learning. Information isn’t wisdom. It isn’t common sense necessarily. It isn’t kindness. Or trustworthiness. Or good judgement. Or imagination. . . It doesn’t tell us right from wrong.”

    Its reassuring to find other like-minded people seeking substance in their lives. Keep up the good work. I’m keeping your feed in my reader.

    1. Thank you for your comments Daniel! I agree it’s all about filtering the noise. Thanks for keeping me! 🙂

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