Information Overload

I was re-reading a salmon recipe on my laptop as my friend waited for me to finish making dinner.  In the background, NPR's Ira Glass described a Hamlet monologue with intensity. Meanwhile, my friend pulled up on her cell phone a viral video of Britney Spears singing without auto-tune.  

"She's such a horrible singer!" she exclaimed.  

My own phone buzzed. "Did you see the last World Cup game?" the text message read.  I opened up a new tab on my laptop to check out the game results. When I was done, the Britney video was over and Ira Glass paused in his conversation.  A moment of silence passed.

"So, Elisa...." my friend said, trailing off.  "What were we talking about when I first got here?"

The oven beeped.  A slab of raw salmon sat on the counter. "Oh my god," I realized aloud.  "I forgot to put the salmon in the oven."

Sometimes, I feel like I am drowning in information. Recently, I went to an educational lecture where the keynote speaker said that, after 2003, we have had access to more information than all of the history of humankind had until that point.  For the most part, I am grateful for that.  Technology gives me health, like when I research home remedies for my sore throat.  It gives me knowledge as when I learn to awkwardly samba, aided by YouTube instructors.  It gives me connection, too.  I write a blog where people ask me for my humble advice on their relationships, and this connects me to the world.

But how much is too much?  I've been feeling that my mind is full of the wrong kinds of information.  The other day, a bearded guy holding a newspaper turned to me in the BART train.

"Hey, what's going on in Syria?" he asked.  "Something with Iraq?  What's that?"  

I stumbled around, looking for words.  Finally, I admitted:  "I only know about what happened last year.  I haven't kept up on Syria."  Five minutes later, I exited the BART station and gave a play-by-play of an episode of "Millionaire Matchmaker" to my friend.  

Last month I quit my job in order to focus in on the things I truly care about: working a job that serves others and that allows me to pursue my passions.  In order for me to focus in on my passions, I had to learn to say "No."  Recently, I've been thinking: What if I applied this to my consumption of information?  What if I learned to say "No" to learning about the information I do not need?  The information that does not serve my purpose in the world?  Can I just quit my obsession with information?  

Yesterday, a few friends came over for dinner again.  I switched my phone to "silent" as we chatted in my kitchen.  I printed out the recipe I needed in advance. I heated up a pot of soup.  I chopped some vegetables for a stir-fry.  I actually put the food into the frying pan. While I cooked, we chatted about one friend's new relationship, another's views on the World Cup, and my new job.  

"What do you think about ISIS?" somebody asked.  "What do you think it'll do in Syria?"

"I don't know," I admitted.  "I just learned about it, so I only know the basics."  I listened as the others chimed in with their thoughts.

It wasn't perfect, but it was a start.  

Elisa Kim just quit her day job and loves it. She wrote out her steps for quitting on her blog, girlgrowingbrighter.com, about her journey. Click here for her practical steps on switching careers, or here to read about what she did after she quit.

Street intersection congested with street signs image courtesy of Shutterstock

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