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Consumption vs. action

Diane Hall


Different thoughts. Man standing in the studio with empty signs for the text.

I had an interesting chat with someone a couple of weeks ago, about the amount of information we consume nowadays.

This lady spends her spare time either working on her business or listening to audiobooks and podcasts that help her improve her skills and which furnish her business acumen. I greatly admire her motivation, productivity and commitment…I get home from work and all I want to do is zone out. Any ‘spare’ time outside of my jobs I spend in my business, working on freelance projects, or on practical tasks, such as housework. I very rarely get time to work on myself, on my career or on my business.

The thing is, I could find the time if I wanted, but I find I’m mentally exhausted after spending eight hours on a computer for my employers. The thought of switching on my laptop and doing freelance/my own work when I get home defeats me before I even begin. Instead, I’ll watch a rerun of something on the TV or I mindlessly scroll through Facebook and TikTok until bedtime. Anything that doesn’t require any brain power.

In our chat, the lady remarked that, as a society, we now consume information every waking hour, which we wouldn’t have done a generation or so ago. We’d have interacted with each other more, or we’d have done something practical, such as going for a walk, in our downtime. Today, our phones and devices are melded to our hands and our eyes take in more information than you could imagine—from facts to adverts, from imagery to ideas, from other people’s experiences to their opinions. But do we actually do anything with the information we consume?

Some people do, as my chat with the learned lady confirmed. She’s clearly a driven, ambitious woman who’s really enjoying her side hustle and the new lease of life it’s giving her. Is she the exception rather than the rule? Or are there more people like me who, when they’re not at work or partaking in their hobbies, mindlessly consume information without any thought of applying it?

Mindfulness is a fairly recent movement that could combat our endless consumption of information. I attended a journalling workshop recently, and the whole premise was of being in the moment, of evaluating our day, of making plans, of creating the mental space to simply stop and think about things. I admit that I used parts of my brain during the session that I wouldn’t normally use, and it was a luxury to simply sit for a couple of hours and do nothing but reflect, ponder and plan. Following the workshop, I was keen to carve out some time every day to repeat the experience, but my usual mindless habits stamped my timecard. It appears that, for me to feel in the moment, I’ve to make a conscious effort to do so—it doesn’t just happen automatically.

Diverse business people using digital devices

Diverse business people using digital devices

According to this article on the subject, information overload is definitely a thing. However, the human brain seems to recognise when we’re mindlessly scrolling; it doesn’t attempt to process every piece of information we see—it can’t. Our brains cherry-pick what they assume may be useful in future when we’re consuming information over a period of time.

This is a little like when we drive on autopilot…how many times have you ‘come to’ when driving a car and wondered how you’ve got so far in your journey? Whilst you’d ‘zoned out’, you’d still stopped at traffic lights, looked out for hazards and maintained direction, yet you’ll know you weren’t giving your journey your full attention.

In the article, there’s also the thought that the internet is not just affecting our attention spans and the way we take in information, it’s having an impact on our memories. After all, if you forget something you need to know today, there’s no extra benefit to be had by racking your brains when you could just ask Google.

If we see a certain fact or premise a few times, as with any other way of absorbing information, it will eventually imprint itself on our brains and become a memory—or at least a fact we file away in our cerebral filing cabinets. The brain, as an organ, can only hold so much information in both its short-term and long-term memory, which is even more reason why it has to be choosy about what it holds/pays attention to.

On the flipside, the sheer amount of facts, opinions, experiences and ideas across the internet have widened our outlooks. Before the internet, if we wanted to learn something new, we would have had to visit a library or consult an encyclopaedia, which would have taken time and effort. Nowadays, we can access a myriad of material on every subject in existence; knowledge has never been more accessible.

In 2022, we probably spend more energy and time shutting information out than going and looking for it. Wherever our knowledge comes from, though, it will always come down to what we do with it and how we can apply it to improve our lives.

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