EDITIONS
In Depth

To Consume or Not to Consume

Guest Author
1st Aug 2013
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information_overload

No, I am not talking about the holiday food or alcohol. You know what happens when you consume too much food. It will affect your body, mind and spirit (in that order) negatively. I don’t know how else to say this - the negative effects of over-eating will show up both in the short-term and in the long-term. If you keep ignoring the short-term signals, you will finally end up on a path that will lead to you to a disaster.On the other hand, there is no simple way assess the short term damage of over-consuming information. The rest of the article is all about how to strike a good balance without losing your mind.

The general side effect of over-consuming information is unnecessary stress. You may not notice this unless you very carefully observe and reflect on this topic. It gets complicated as almost everyone around you is going through the same level of stress due to information overload making it seem like it’s a necessity to go through this. It’s as if you need to pay this price to live in these interesting times.

The million dollar question is: to consume or not to consume!

The consultant within me says that there is no perfect answer to the question of how much to consume as it really depends but I can make a bold claim that if you reduce your information consumption by 50% you will still not lose any competitive advantage.

How did this information consumption madness begin?

The first thing to contemplate is how did it all get started. Why did we start consuming information at a rate that’s unsustainable?

I can think of a few reasons:

  1. More information is available: Think about the number of pages being indexed by Google. If you looked up that number yesterday, you no longer have the current information. It has increased by leaps and bounds today.
  2. More information is accessible: The information that’s created is not just stored in some vault and kept away from us. It’s easily available to anyone with an internet connection. Most of it is available for free too.
  3. More people are creating information: The barrier to entry to create information is close to zero with the advent of blogging and free blogging tools.
  4. More ways to consume information: Earlier the way to consume information was through newspapers and magazines. Today, we can consume information in a variety of ways the most prevalent (now) being via your smartphone.
  5. More reasons to consume information: This is questionable but at least this is what crafty content marketers want you to believe. There is a cottage industry related to search engine optimization

Why do we consume so much information?

The five main reasons for consuming information are as follows:

  1. Education: You think that this information will help you in some way - direct or indirect for your personal or professional life.
  2. Entertainment: You have some interest outside of work. It may be a passion or hobby that gives you joy. Information related to those hobbies and passions is readily available (in many cases available in real-time) for you.
  3. Build Relationships: Information acts a great bridge to build relationships. You want to turn a stranger to an acquaintance to a friend? You can begin that journey by starting to engage with the stranger via the information they have shared to the world.
  4. To Keep-in-Touch: Today’s tools allow you to be up to date in the lives of people that are connected to you (be it family, friends or acquaintances) in general via social networks. You want to take full advantage of that. Example: Take Facebook, the biggest social network there is and the most popular item there is photo albums.
  5. To Avoid Real Work: Whether you admit it or not, this is a real category and you have probably engaged in information consumption to avoid real work. Real work takes more effort than simply clicking through one article after another on the Internet.

You might have other reasons but the above should be a good start.

Why is there an Imbalance?

Rarely do people pay a premium for storage of information. You get paid for interpretation of the information that is valuable to a company or if you “act” powerfully based on information that you have. You can also contribute (a form of action, I know) that creates more meaning for people and companies based on what you know.

However, interpretation, action and contribution cost you a lot more than simply continuing to consume information. A meaningful contribution in particular takes much longer so there is no short-term benefit in focusing on it.

Honestly, you already know this but there is a tremendous pull for information consumption that you get carried away. The indirect social proof that comes from watching other people consuming lots and lots of information doesn’t help either.

The result: An imbalance between consumption and contribution in the short-term. In the long-term, if this is unchecked, it becomes a way of your life.

A Proposal to Consider:

The core purpose of information consumption should be increase your capacity to meaningfully contribute. Everything else needs to be in check.

The general temptation would be to suggest you to go on an information diet but that’s not what I am proposing.

Go on a war footing to contribute meaningfully to the world around you. Pick a purpose that is larger than life and focus all your information consumption to help you with your goals related to this contribution. Start taking this seriously and you will be very busy with “acting” and “contributing.” This means you will automatically have less time go on mindless information consumption. Whatever little time you spend on that will anyway be focused on helping you increase your capacity to act and contribute.

About the author:

Rajesh "Raj" Setty is a serial entrepreneur and a business alchemist based in Silicon Valley. He currently serves as the president of WittyParrot. He has been instrumental in founding several technology and publishing companies in US and India. Raj has been a member of the Band of Angels since 2007 and is also an award-winning teacher at the Founders Institute.

Raj is also a published author with 13 books to his credit so far with his first book published when he was thirteen. Raj has been blogging since 2005 and as of today, has more than 1870 posts on his blog. You can follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/rajesh301 or on Twitter at twitter.com/rajsetty

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