Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Information Overload. Brain in Shut-Down Mode.

I know your attention span is short, so I'll try to keep this brief. Hell, *my* attention span is just as short, so I may have no choice but to keep this brief. By the time I get to the end of this paragraph, I might have lost focus and moved onto other things, like looking at an article about Roger Ebert or reading my Twitter feed or seeing what's happening on Facebook or...

...nope, I'm still here. But it's seriously a wonder, because I've been feeling the SERIOUS crunch of information overload recently. In any given half-hour span, I'm probably connected to three social networks, my iTunes, whatever project I'm working on, a couple of articles I found on Google -- okay, I just seriously blanked out there. I'm not kidding. That's about how long I can focus without moving onto other things. That long. Long enough to compose one and a half paragraphs of this blog.

Which is why I haven't been blogging recently. I'm a member of at least one message board, check two others. I have a Twitter feed, I have a Facebook page with 600-plus people on it (I checked: all but TWO of whom I actually know). I have two emails I have to check on a regular basis, plus a phone that only rings anymore once in a blue moon, because everybody knows I won't answer it anyway. I have iTunes and an iPod that I use constantly to try to focus out the XM radio and the sound of the other people in my office talking and clicking and looking at THEIR Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and whatever else.

And that's AFTER peeling back, people. I don't have a cellphone anymore -- which sounds insane, because why wouldn't I have an iPhone?? It's an iPod and a phone and an internet browser ALL IN ONE and that means I could browse the net when I'm out walking or on my bike or WHATEVER! And I don't have cable television either, because I realized at some point that everything on television is either crap or something I can get in DVD box sets or on iTunes without commercials.

But that's still too much! But even if I eliminate, say, Twitter -- which I tried to do, but I couldn't even, because I was reminded that I have to market my band online and participate in the fifteen-hundred online conversations I'm part of every single day -- or Twitter AND Facebook -- which I'm not sure I *could* do, because now that I'm reconnected to every family member and school chum I've ever had, my absence would be like a slap in the face -- there's still a GIGANTIC BARRAGE OF DISTRACTING INFORMATION COMING AT ME.

Plus, it strikes me evermore that everything is completely transitory. There is no permanence anymore. Everything I do vanishes off into the ether. In my meatworld job as a Creative Director, I'm not designing physical stuff like book jackets or CD covers or whatever, I'm designing crap that sits in an imaginary fantasy world and the minute someone pulls the plug on it, everything vanishes into the ether. I write blog entries and Twitter posts -- and poof, there it goes off into an Info-Realm that no more exists than Wonderland. My music collection sits in a series of fingernail-sized microchips. My friendships exist as a series of bytes and blips and they're no less real than the meatworld one. Everything feels impermanent, plastic, digital, false.

The end result of this is that I spend MORE THAN HALF MY DAY tied to this damn computer taking in a CONSTANT STREAM OF UNENDING INFORMATION and my brain is fucking SICK OF IT. It is seriously rebelling. It is saying "shut this shit the fuck off NOW." But come on -- that's not possible, anymore, not if I wanna live and make money and be creative. I can't stand on the corner and hand out flyers for my band. I can't design with pens and paper. It doesn't work that way. I'm stuck here, and my brain is getting fuller and fuller and fuller and there's no end in sight.

I mean, even my little rebellious dike-plug efforts like tossing out my cell and getting rid of cable -- they can barely stem the flood. The flood is ever-coming. The flood is good. Embrace the flood. Without the flood, you would not exist.

And you know what ends up happening to me? What's happening to Millenials around the world, according to statistics -- a nostalgic yearning for simpler times. It's not so much that I wish it was 1979 anymore -- it's more that I wish it was 1979 in terms of the way my brain dealt with stuff. I wish I had a rotary-dial telephone and a record player with vinyl records and a library full of REAL BOOKS and an encyclopedia and four channels of TV that came via an antenna and my bike and the great outdoors and *that's it*. I mean, if I want information, I've got it -- it's called "a library." But it has one input PER TIME. My eyes, a book. My options are "pick it up" and "put it down." It's binary information collection -- "on" or "off," not "off" or "HOW MANY FUCKING CHANNELS DO YOU WANT AT ONE TIME YOU SEXY LITTLE MONKEY?"

It's not that I wish I was young again. I just wish there was less input. Does that make sense? Are you even still with me?

So the weird-ass thing I've been doing recently is listening to ELO. Why? What does that have to do with the price of tea in china? Well, a couple things. For one thing, it reminds me of "those days." Which for some reason I find very zen. It puts my brain back in 1979 mode and for a few seconds I can pretend it's not full of knowledge about who SNOOKI FUCKING SNICKERS IS. For another, the album covers -- that's the future I wanted, dammit. I wanted neon and bright colors and airbrushing, NOT the apple white-plastic-and-cathode-ray-tube-future we actually got. For yet another, I can pretend I'm listening to it on an 8-track and not on my super-impermanent iPod that risks getting wiped at any second.


I'm totally open to suggestions, here.


Anonymous said...

On weekends I will often turn my phone on "silent" and just not look at it unless I have to make a call. It's a small thing, but it helps me get my mind off the potential "ring ring" sound, and who it could be. Remember when you used to be able to go days without using a phone? Remember coming home and checking your messages? It's a lot like that.

Also phone-related... try going somewhere without it. Even if you're just going grocery shopping or to the mall. Spending time un-tethered can be surprisingly liberated. You may have voicemail when you get home, but spending truly solitary time, even if it's in a building with thousands of others, is a rarer and rarer experience.

Jon Hunt said...

Oh, I agree -- getting rid of my cell has been a general annoyance for Trixi (she's now my point of contact!! I should just get one of those "home phones" like people used to have, and an answering machine) but a wonderment for me!

CleverTrou said...

We agree it's ultimately a perception thing, right? Not the "fault" of technology, but your emotional reaction to everything that finds an open channel to your eyeballs, right? 'Cause you have to deliberately open most of those channels - you have to create a Twitter account, and Follow people, and configure your phone to send and receive e-mail...

When I worked in the bookstore, I discovered a limit to my appetite for consuming, um, let's call it textual and graphical input (no, I wouldn't say it was all knowledge - there were novels, and books of paintings, and The Far Side collections...) Clearly there were fewer digital firehoses in my kisser at the time, but I suspect I had a similar sensation to what you describe.

So I read less at the bookstore, even at the cost of extreme boredom. I people-watched at work, at home I watched TV some, played music some, listened to music some, dated girls some. I turned my attention away from that firehose.

I'd guess there is a way to live your life - including being a musician and holding down a square job - while blocking (ignoring) the truly overwhelming inputs. Of course, to find out how other people have managed that, my first instinct would be to ask my 600 closest friends on Twitter and FaceBook. BAZINGA!

Anonymous said...


Am I actually lucky that none of my social networks are connected to my phone? Heck, my phone is rarely ever with me. We still have a land line and answering machine.

I talk to and see people more than I text or email and I still send snail mail. In fact, you should be checking your mailbox soon.

I do still have FB, Twitter, Blogger and I mean besides my dear friends and family, does anyone really care what I have to say or show? Um. Maybe a handful?

I still listen to cd's. I can barely work my iPod. I don't watch tv and yet this is all STILL enough to make me want to shoot myself. I dream of packing it all in one day and moving. I want to be surrounded by silence, calm and the people I love. I'll send postcards and invite everyone to visit.

J, it's okay to turn this stuff off. Personally, I think it's just too much for anyone to handle. We weren't meant to be connected to so many things. Pick what you love best and what will work for your band announcements.

Duran Duran said it the best to all of us, "Too much information..."


vfleblanc said...

I spend whole days and nights in silence, especially on weekends. I turn it all off. I walk amongst the solitude and I may read, or write, or listen to some music on my retro radio thingy. Sometimes I even dance. A day of silence completely cut off from all electronic media with a single minded goal is so rejuvenating. End the day with a hot bath, and go to bed with a wet head like you did as a child. It is an amazing way to recharge your batteries and clear out the cobwebs caused by too much input.

belsum said...

I love ELO.

I guess I know why you never answer emails anymore.

I like to play legos with the kids. With the 8-track playing.