By Shelley Hayduk
Today we all deal with an unprecedented amount of information. We have websites, company intranets, e-mails and files. Even when we leave our computer we still have the ever-present stream of texts, alerts and updates. On a good day, this taps us into humanity's stream of consciousness, a testament to our ingenuity, connectedness and the power of many.
On a bad day, it can be nothing more than digital noise, overwhelming us with an onslaught of information. This dizzying array of stuff leads to a catch-22 recently explored in Newsweek's "I Can't Think." Sharon Begley notes that the more information we receive the poorer our choices -- a kind of "info paralysis" occurs, a deluge of information and possibilities that leads to brain freeze or, at the very least, lowered productivity.
It occurs to me that there is a simple premise we rarely follow, especially when we are, say, more technically inclined and wired. That is: "Some information needs to be discarded and some needs to be remembered. Keep and pay attention to only what is relevant." Or as Bruce Lee put it: "Absorb what is useful."
Throughout time humans have struggled with when to act and when not to act on knowledge. This is reflected in theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's well-known serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
It is not surprising that this very prayer has become the key therapeutic ingredient in many addiction treatments and thus can aptly be used for our own digital habits and addictions. Today, if this prayer were to be repurposed for the digital age, it might go something like:
God grant me the serenity to save the things I need, courage to ignore the things I do not, and the wisdom to know the difference.
If we were to practice this sentiment throughout our digital lives, what type of information management system and attitudes would we have? What tools should be used? When should we pay attention to information and when should we turn away?