How To Keep Your Head From Exploding

Our mobiles, tablets and laptops are so full of status updates, app updates, IM’s , emails, news links and so many zillions of other bits of information we may wonder how we can carve out enough time to absorb it all.

Here’s the painfully obvious conclusion: We don’t. We can’t.

Clay Shirky is a teacher. He’s been writing about people and the Internet since the late 1990’s. I’m a big fan.

One of my favorite Shirky quotes was uttered at a Web 2.0 expo in New York in 2008. It distilled the issue so succinctly..

Clay Shirky, Fortune Teller


Shirky’s bottom line: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 million websites available to look at. Of that, about 182-ish million are active. If you looked at 10 active sites per day every day for one year, you’d be at 365,000- with a hell of a long way to go.

I teach a class in media evolution. Every morning I scan a handful of apps, looking for updates and trends. I have to be careful to not let my head explode!

It’s impossible to be aware of every single development. I have to be satisfied to lean on a few trusted news sources and blogs, take way what I can, and pass it on to my grad students.

The related problem? Many of us feel we have to share our stuff. It’s a basic human need, so it’s not a bad thing, unless it rules our lives.


About half of the 7,087 adults and 1,787 teenagers questioned in a recent Intel – sponsored online poll said they felt overwhelmed by all this information. Nearly 90 percent would like people to think about what they share and how others will perceive them online.

Although many complain about over sharing, few people admit to doing it themselves. Read the full Reuters article here.

Assuming you don’t have a staff to skim, annotate and edit a one sheet of every important thing that happened in the world every day, allowing ourselves to “miss” things will go a long way to restoring our collective sanity.

We need to develop better filters.

1) Say goodbye to mass personal broadcasting. Facebook and the other huge social networks have created a black hole of cultural gravity. It has become a reflexive activity rather than an intellectual one.  If it feels overwhelming, stop feeding the monster. The big social nets are fine and absolutely useful, but maybe not so great for you as one exhausted human being.

Consider Path, a social network limited to 150 friends, with solid security tools. Give yourself a break. Research suggests we are able to have a meaningful relationship with only about 150 people anyway (if you’re interested, look at Robin Dunbar’s theory here). With Path, you can be you,…with a group of people who have authentic impact in your life. This is where your 10,000 pictures of your kids belong – with people who actually want to see them.

“I don’t want to sign up for yet another new service! It’s too much work!” Really? In the time it takes you to crop and edit that cat picture and post to Facebook, you can invite your real friends to a more intimate social experience.

2) Pick a filtering tool. Spend a few minutes this weekend setting up a system to aggregate the information that is important to you. This article suggests some of the more popular apps. This is your new daily personal newspaper. It will have the stuff you feel you need to see every day.

3) Focus your reinvention strategy.  We scroll through endless job postings, we drift from job board to job board, we wade through an ocean of links, looking for the next great opportunity. It’s an approach that humbles even the most motivated. It’s too much, it’s too huge.

Filter your search. When looking under rocks, you need to look where the rocks are. If I had to pick just one place to look for a job, it’d be LinkedIn. Hiring managers are there. Decision makers and mentors are there. Colleagues are there. Contacts are there. Your people are ready to help you. You can focus your dream on LinkedIn.

Not all agree. This article introduces us to It may be a better alternative for some.


Give yourself the freedom from the information noose around your neck. Make it manageable. Your brain will thank you.


John Scott is the National Online Learning Coordinator and a media history professor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention.  His debut book  “Broken Glass and Barbed Wire” will be released soon. Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.   


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