How much information overload is self-induced?

Original image from pushandplay's beautiful collection of data visualizations

With my always-flowing Twitter stream, borderline-unmanageable list of RSS feeds, and more unanswered email that I care to admit, it's no wonder that I often feel overloaded with information.

The thing is (and I think this is worth reminding myself regularly), most of my own personal information overload is entirely self-induced. So then, here are three things I recently came across on the web (ironically, via RSS feeds), to help remind me of that.

First, an anecdote from from Anil Dash. After returning from a two-week vacation, Anil came to the conclusion that he didn't miss anything while being away from his RSS feeds and email:

for the most part, I was kind of disturbed at how few things that are truly significant happen in any given two-week period. [...] So, it's not exactly the most profound observation, and I'm far from the first to make it, but it's worth noting again: There isn't that much going on. While the constant flow of information is entertaining and addictive, it is, by overwhelming consensus, primarily filled with bits that are of little to no value.

I called Anil on the telephone yersterday, and he told me the whole story and reflected a bit on the experience. You can listen below or download the MP3:

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Second, I sat up and noticed when, after unplugging for 24 hours, Peter Rukavina decided to quit microblogging:

microblogging (the emission of pithy 140 characters-or-less "status updates" through sites like Twitter, Jaiku and Faceboook), while addictive, is, for me, the digital equivalent of empty calories. It took 24 hours out of the loop to realize that while microblogging has the appearance of substance, it shares more in common with a nervous tick than with writing a novel.

Finally, an artistic reminder of self-induced information overload . Via the excellent Radio Berkman podcast, I heard about Metropath(0logies), an installation at the MIT museum:

Metropath(ologies) is a new installation about living in a world overflowing with information and non-stop communication. The sounds and visual imagery incorporate live and recorded data ranging from personal updates and private information, to global news reports. Visitors may choose to become part of the exhibit, their images captured by surveillance cameras, their names entered into databases, their voices recorded and played back by in the echoing soundtrack.

What about you? How do you manage the constant flow of digital information? How much of it could you cut out if you wanted or needed to?


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