Information Obesity: Be in a calorie deficit
Read Time : 5 minutes
With current statistics suggesting that the average adult is set to spend the equivalent of 34 years of their life looking at screens (Elsworthy 2020) it is imperative that we begin to challenge the epidemic which is currently sweeping our society: Information Obesity.
Howards (2016) bolsters this argument attesting that 'U.S. adults spent an average of 10 hours and 39 minutes each day using devices such as tablets, smartphones, personal computers, video games, and TVs', and even more disconcerting yet, that 17% of people feel anxious if they are away from their phone for too long (Elsworthy 2020).
With Disney Plus reporting 'its subscriber base grew to 57.5m by the end of June, up from 28.6m in February' (Poppy 2020), the increasing trend for a constant supply of media, news and information shows no sign of relenting or subsiding.
Upon receiving my first lockdown Screen Time Report, so kindly delivered by Apple, I quickly realised that I reached the lofty ranks of the average adult that 'checks their phones 58 times a day' (Zalani 2021). I was undoubtedly on a fast-food information diet, filled with junk food, doughnuts and sugary, processed snacks - high in calories but low in nutrition.
I decided to embark on a personal journey to lower screen time and improve the quality of information consumed. This article highlights my findings.
Quality > Quantity
Some self-reflection on the articles, television shows, apps and news sources that I frequently consumed showed that almost all the information engaged with was simply unimportant and downright irrelevant to my life, my career or my goals.
The consumption of this information came at a hefty cost. It was time consuming, energy-sapping, negative, and worse yet, totally outside of my control or sphere of influence. With this in mind I decided to eliminate or restrict all information that fell within this remit - news, articles which didn't directly relate to my goals, functionless social media use and apps, which no longer were fit for purpose, were eliminated or deleted.
With news consumption at zero, how could I act as a responsible, well informed global citizen?
Ironically, all information that was relevant to me made its way to me. Family, friends, peers, colleagues or the barista at the local coffee house would all share the happenings of the day, giving me an overview of world events without spending any time consuming the information.
Better yet, it helped build relationships and networks with those around me, as we always had things to discuss and I could draw on the wealth of knowledge of friends and colleagues, who could synergise hundreds of hours of their research in just minutes. I could draw upon a collection of trusted specialists who could direct, guide and assist me in almost every life domain in reciprocally beneficial relationships.
I began turning my phone off at 8pm in the evening and having phone-free days. At first, I feared missing an emergency call or text but quickly came to realise that 'emergencies' somehow resolve themselves or disappear when you empower others and remove yourself as the solution.
With the quantity of information decreased, this allowed more energy for engaging with quality information. Reading classic books written by Orwell, Puzo, Frankl and Coelho replaced UTV Live at 6, listening to timeless music replaced Twitter threads and engaging, uplifting programs replaced The Nolan Show.
In juxtaposition to my previous approach, each engagement with information was a source of empowerment, energisation and added value to my life, moving the needle in the correct direction and setting my life on a positive trajectory.
Current Information > Future Information
For information to be truly useful it must be used for something important and immediate. It must be pivotal to the task at hand and immediately implementable otherwise it is 'Future Information'; information that may be useful sometime.
Future Information is nothing more than 'productive procrastination' and should be treated with the contempt it deserves. As the overly eager student undertaking a new course, buying and reading the recommended materials well ahead of time will confide, the majority of the information consumed bore no relevance to the course nor assignments. Worse yet, they had to reread the sections that were relevant to refresh their memory of the content and dissect the relevant information.
This is not an advocation for leaving things until the last minute but rather a recognition that the brain retains way less information than we think. Dale (1946) attests that we retain 10% of what we read and, as a result, reading information for future use is, at best, a very inefficient and ineffective system and, at worst, a complete and utter waste of time. Consequentially, we must become adept at ensuring that the information we consume is important, immediate and implementable.
Output > Input
Confucius reminds us of the brevity of life and the importance of living it with intentionality stating:
“Every man has two lives, and the second starts when he realises he has just one”
Before implementing these changes, I constantly complained that I didn't have enough time for my own endeavours. Binning needless media, news and information unlocked time to pursue these endeavours and to create, publish, coach and ultimately to give back to the community who are responsible for making me the person I am today.
With only one opportunity at life, developing skills, working on exciting projects and publishing insightful and informative material which holds the capacity to support, help and assist others is a much more attractive proposition than aimlessly scrolling, consuming and engaging in catastrophism through continual consumption of social media.
The decision to curate and streamline media consumption has profound personal and societal benefits. Not only do you personally avoid the 'more severe depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem' (David 2019) that is associated with this lifestyle and create time for meaningful endeavours, hobbies and pursuits but it gives you the license to create, build and publish.
Subsequently, the world becomes a better place as a result of your labour, you build connections with like-minded people and 'serendipity' leads you to further opportunities. You build expertise over time and continue to cut your own unique path in this world, creating as you pass, a legacy that celebrates not only your achievements but the culture, community and characters from which you stem.
The data are clear: Structure your media consumption like your fat-loss training and nutrition plan:
'Quality sessions over quantity,
Burn more calories than you consume,
Trust the process'
Trial a media detox for 5 days
Do I consume too much media?
What information is unimportant and not immediately useful?
How can I remove this?
What should my ‘Information Diet’ look like?
How can I produce/ publish more?
Boers E, Afzali MH, Newton N, Conrod P. Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(9):853–859. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1759
David, E., 2019, Social media, screen time linked to depression in teens, ABC News, New York
Edgar D., 1946, Audio-visual methods in teaching, Dryden Press, London
Elsworthy, E., 2020, Figures suggest people spend nearly 5,000 hours a year using their gadgets, Indy Life, London
Wood, Poppy, 2020, Coronavirus: Screen time soars as adults spend half their day on devices, City A.M., London
Zalani, R., 2021, Screen Time Statistics 2021: Your Smartphone Is Hurting You, Elite Content Marketer, London