Information overload, an experiment and some related thoughts
Posted on 29 Mar 2012 | Back to Bitloom home
Some time ago I did an experiment: disconnect completely from all kind of social networks for 30 days.
I wrote a report about that in Italian, but since I think it’s an interesting reading about something I consider a very serious problem, I am going to translate and republish it on this blog. The original is available here.
Social networks detox
Previously I was talking about following a “diet” targeting social networks… I never wrote a follow-up about this experiment. I will do it now because today I was reading this very interesting article about how social networks are damaging our brains.
The point made by this article is the following: on social networks information is exchanged very rapidly and in a very condensed form, and spending a lot of time on them reconfigure our brain and reduce our ability to focus and to understand elaborated content (http://singularityhub.com/2011/12/13/how-social-media-is-ruining-your-mind)
Looking back to the experiment I was talking about, I couldn’t agree more with the thesis exposed in the previous article. Here it is a quick summary of my personal experience about social networks detoxing:
The experiment was very successful, in the sense that I was able, for at least 30 days in a row (see after), to avoid to connect to any social network I was used to log-in daily. To be more precise I am talking about Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (I don’t use any other social network)
The first four days were dreadful. I really had to fight the almost automatic impulse to go and check what was going on on these sites. Breaking the “dopamine cycle” mentioned in this article was really painful.
After four days things got stabilized a little bit. The urge to go and check the latest updates was not so strong, and though I was still curious about what was “happening” on the social networks, I could relatively easily refrain from going to check them.
After two weeks I completely lost the urge to check status updates, and I also almost completely lost the interest about what was going on on the social networks.
At the end of the experiment, despite I was finally “authorized” to log-in to social network sites, it took me two more days to do so… And I could have easily avoided it.
The most surprising aspect of this experience was that, once I broke the “dopamine cycle”, I had the impression of having such a big amount of spare time to dedicate to activities I wanted to do, that I almost didn’t know how to make use of it.
Really, “not having the time” for exploring something new or for performing an activity was not a problem anymore because I had the impression of having plenty of time available.
Moreover, by removing interruptions (e.g., the constant checking for new status updates and links) improved a lot my ability to focus. I spent a lot of evenings reading books and taking notes on a block note with a pen! A very enlightening experience after years spent writing using a keyboard.
I also noticed that once I restarted to log-in to social networks sites, the “dopamine cycle” was restored almost immediately. Today I am back checking for “interesting” stuff on social networks, wasting a lot of time in activities with no added value, and having the impression, again, of not having enough time to do what I would like to.
I think it’s time to start following that diet again.
I decided to (re)write this post because today I stumbled upon another very interesting article about consumption addiction which, in turns, linked an awesome answer on Quora about hidden habits of ineffective people
I found myself having many of these habits, and this made me think about it.
The experiment I described before was very eye-opening. It was about content consumption on social networks but it really was about focusing and removing interruptions.
This is very important because today we are constantly interrupted. And this prevents us to concentrate and work effectively and productively.
Cutting off social network sites, reducing content consumption (e.g., by reserving well defined daily or weekly time-slots for this activity), stopping to multitask and focus as much and for as long as possible on a single task is something very beneficial. Creativity (you will need to find ways to make use of your time once you don’t have the content consumption filler) and overall quality of your work will surely improve.
Subscribing to periodic publications like Hacker montly or using techniques like the Pomodoro technique could help a lot in achieving these objectives.
To conclude I’ve found one advice to be really relevant: “create more than you consume”… Your brain will thank you.