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How to manage infobesity

In the beginning, there was the word. Now, there’s a deluge of language. On average, Americans consume 34 gigabytes of content and encounter 100,000 written words from various sources in a single day (pdf).

For context, Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace is 460,000 words. That means we’re encountering more than we can take in, according to literati and cognitive-load theory. We may need a language break.

Writers like Cormac McCarthy and William S. Burroughs have long claimed that language is a parasite or an infectious virus. Too much can leave you feeling feverish and tired, drained, and weak. Their view is supported by numerous studies on cognitive-load theory and information overload in various fields, including psychology, education, and business.

Cognitive-load theory posits that brains have only so much bandwidth, so to best take in information, you must also limit it. 

Choosiness improves information intake. Since most of the information we encounter is in the form of words, limiting language helps.

Infobesity, a widespread problem, can be managed by balancing your diet. Try just reading an article without checking text messages or listening to music. Don’t multitask and don’t play a podcast while working. Think of your focus as a precious resource; protect it like a national forest.

Extract from Quartz.

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