In 2011, ours is a life of continuous choice. The internet has transitioned from a bank of information that we once visited voluntarily to one that visits us constantly. Smartphones are essentially information IVs. The drip is incessant. But that’s okay because information = power. Our decisions are more informed than ever. We’re awesome now. Right? Well…
Sharon Begley of Newsweek writes a different story, and it’s one that I think many of you can relate to.
She explains things like why decision paralysis happens:
Every bit of incoming information presents a choice: whether to pay attention, whether to reply, whether to factor it into an impending decision. But decision science has shown that people faced with a plethora of choices are apt to make no decision at all.
And even if we manage to pop out a decision,
… it often comes back to haunt us. […] In a world of limitless information, regret over the decisions we make becomes more common. We chafe at the fact that identifying the best feels impossible.
If you’ve been following me here lately, you’ve seen my posts about OmniFocus and GTD. One of the key goals of GTD is clearing your mind’s “RAM.” Here’s the psychological reason why that’s useful:
When more than seven units of information land in our brain’s inbox, argues psychologist Joanne Cantor, […] the brain struggles to figure out what to keep and what to disregard. Ignoring the repetitious and the useless requires cognitive resources and vigilance, a harder task when there is so much information.
And if you’ve ever stopped to wonder why you’re addicted to your smartphone (have you?), here’s a good explanation:
The brain is wired to notice change over stasis. An arriving email that pops to the top of your BlackBerry qualifies as a change; so does a new Facebook post. […] Getting 30 texts per hour up to the moment when you make a decision means that most of them make all the impression of a feather on a brick wall, whereas Nos. 29 and 30 assume outsize importance, regardless of their validity.
I think this last point also gets at the anxiety around unread counts, which are, in my opinion, the greatest evil given us by modern digital life.