Information overload isn't a new thing. People have been collecting more books than they could ever read for centuries (the Japanese even have a word for it: tsundoku), but technology is definitely making the problem of the ever-expanding to-read list worse.
It's not just the bookstore calling out seductively to us. It is the whole internet, and the internet is unfathomably massive. So big, in fact, that 90 percent of the data that humanity has ever generated was produced in the last two years. That's around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, and rising.
Game developer turned educator and author Kathy Sierra has a suggestion for what to do about this reality, though you might not want to hear it: Just give up.
"Keeping up" is a myth
That's right, she wrote on her blog, it's time for us all to face the fact that we're never going to get through all the articles we've bookmarked for later, check back with every worthwhile blog or social feed, or read all the books clogging up our e-reader's queue.
"You can't keep up. There is no way. And trying to keep up will probably just make you dumber. You can never be current on everything you think you should be," she writes. Sierra is speaking specifically to programmers hoping to keep up with the latest in the field, but she could be speaking to any member of the modern world.
How to get your information diet under control
So what do you do once you've internalized the hopelessness of your quest to keep up with everything you should? First, reject any guilt you feel about not doing the impossible. Then, she suggests, take a few simple steps to make sure that while you might not get to everything, you do get to the essentials.
Find the best aggregators. "Aggregators become increasingly more important. Finding the right person, business, website, etc. who does the best job of filtering (attenuating) in a specific area adds time to your life," suggests Sierra.
Get summaries. CliffNotes aren't just for lazy high school students. There are tons of services offering book summaries, and bloggers whose job it is to read all day and report back the juiciest, more useful bits. Take advantage.
Cut the redundancy. "Do you really need three news magazines? Do you have to subscribe to every technical journal?" asks Sierra. "Get with your friends or colleagues and divide up the main ones. Each person is responsible for subscribing to and keeping up with just one, letting the others know IF there's something in a particular issue worth a read."
Unsubscribe to as many things as possible. "You probably have way too much redundancy in both your printed and online subscriptions. Again, if you're using the right aggregators, they'll tell you when something is worth it. For print, you can save some trees if you give up more of your physical newspapers and magazines," she continues.
Recognize that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes. "It's like watching a car accident despite our best intentions ... We just can't help look, so the more you can stay away from the publications that document every personal detail of every music and film star the better. Let that be your guilty pleasure for when you're at the dentist's office, " she says. Amen to that.
Pick the categories you want for a balanced perspective, and include some from outside your main field of interest. Don't let your commitment to slimming down your information be an excuse to put yourself in a bubble. "Better to have one design magazine, one arts magazine, and one technology/lifestyle magazine than to get rid of everything but your three software development journals. Keeping up with a different field is sometimes just as useful (if not more) than keeping up with your current one," Sierra reminds readers.
Be a lot more realistic about what you're likely to get to, and throw the rest out. "Don't file it. Don't store it. What you don't have piling up you can't feel guilty about," she says.
Which of these suggestions you take on board is up to you, but just about everyone could benefit from Sierra's closing advice: "Take a deep breath and repeat after me, 'I will never keep up. Keeping up is a myth.'" Getting rid of this delusion (and the guilt that comes with it) is the first step to getting yourself on a healthier information diet.