A handy new way to filter all the data smog


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A handy new way to filter all the data smog

Information overload has always been a thing. Arguments over “fake news,” for instance, have been part of American politics since the very beginning


I’ve been thinking a lot about "information overload" lately. As most people learn (usually the hard way), when there's an overwhelming amount of information, it becomes increasingly challenging to process, prioritize, and retain all of it.

That’s more than just annoying or anxiety inducing. It’s a serious problem for individuals and for businesses.

Information overload can lead to valuable data (or birthdays, anniversaries, and the like) being overlooked or buried beneath newer, or somehow more abundant. information.


A more vivid term is "data smog." It’s actually the title of a (prescient) 1997 book about how the large amount of data available on the Internet would make it more difficult to sift through and separate fact from fiction.

Data smog is certainly annoying. But it can also be dangerous. And, a quarter of a century after that book came out, it's more relevant than ever.


We are all exposed to a vast amount of information. Too much, really. It’s a challenge to process, and it causes cognitive strain, a phenomenon I’ve written about in the past. Cognitive strain can result in reduced comprehension, messy mistakes, or even decision paralysis.

Given the endless amount of information available today, from social media to news outlets, and endless emails to non stop notifications, it's more crucial than ever to develop strategies for managing and filtering the information we consume.


But here’s the thing. This actually isn’t a new problem.

In ancient times, the invention of the written word and the eventual proliferation of manuscripts changed the dynamics of information consumption. As manuscripts became more available, a new challenge arose of not only accessing but also curating and understanding vast amounts of knowledge.

Similarly, the Gutenberg press in the 15th century led to an explosion of books, making knowledge more accessible than ever before.

And yet. With the influx of books came the potential for misinformation, necessitating discernment and the ability to filter out unreliable sources.

This was supercharged in Early America. The very first amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. Early Americans ran with it, publishing whatever they wanted about whomever they wanted. Arguing over “fake news” has been part of American current events since the very beginning.

In researching this piece, I came to a really interesting conclusion, which is that moments of knowledge expansion have all come with their own need for information filtering.

You can't have one without the other.

Our modern age—with its endless scrolls and 24 hour news cycles—mirrors the same challenges our fellow humans faced during those significant periods of knowledge expansion. And just as the scholars of Alexandria, or the readers in the post-Gutenberg era, or early Americans needed to learn how to discern, we too can learn how to navigate our current sea of information.


I received a lot of positive feedback on the OMFG Framework I devised and shared last week. So let’s keep the frameworks coming.

Meet FILTER, a new six part framework to help you (and me) manage our present information overload era.

F. Focus. As you may have heard, multi tasking is totally out. Single tasking is in. Dedicate blocks of time (however long or short you can manage) to one specific activity. Reading? Just read. Catching up on emails? Don’t open Insta! But if you’re making time to scroll your socials, scroll with…

I. Intentionality. This is a serious hack. Before you fall down an Instagram rabbit hole, take a moment to ask yourself, "Why am I seeking this information?" but be sure to follow that up with the even more crucial "And how will it benefit me?" If you don’t have a good answer, end the search. It makes logical sense that being deliberate about your information consumption will prevent mindless scrolling and overconsumption.

L. Limits. Set boundaries. This could be a specific hour or amount of time (or both) allocated for checking news, emails, or social media. You can use apps or tools that block distractions during dedicated work periods. One loyal Fv reader suggests Opal.

T. Tidiness. Regularly declutter your digital space. Remove apps you don't use, organize your desktop, and even unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read. I just unsubscribed from a half dozen of them today.

Do all of the above, and you’ll begin to see increased…

E. Efficiency. It makes logical sense that, with fewer interruptions, the quality of your output will significantly improve. Added bonus: you might become faster too. Concentrated effort means tasks that could take hours under fragmented attention, might now take you less than one.

And ultimately, all of the above will create the space for…

R. Reflection. In a world saturated with data, not everything merits our attention. Regular reflection helps us prioritize relevant information, and even sow the seeds of personal growth.

Deliberately taking moments to ponder on what we've all consumed will help us determine what aligns with our goals and what doesn't. And evaluating the utility of information as we consume it helps increase the quality of our knowledge base —ultimately making for more informed decisions and perspectives.


Every significant leap in information accessibility, from ancient Mesopotamia’s earliest written words, to the explosion in social media today, has demanded new techniques, frameworks, and even institutions to help us manage, curate, and distill that knowledge.

In other words, you can’t have knowledge expansion without needing information filtering: when one intensifies, the need for the other naturally increases.

It's a balancing act that we humans have grappled with for millennia.

The FILTER framework is here to help.


Why multitasking doesn’t work »»

The age-old problem of “fake news” »»

Opal revamps its screen time app to help anyone, not just parents with kids, focus and avoid distract »»

Written by Jon Kallus. Thanks for reading.

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