In the social age, there is so much information flowing across our attention spans that it is literally overwhelming our senses.
Such an overwhelming level of kinetic information has always been out there in the world, but in the last five to 10 years, we have created some powerful mechanisms and processes that have made news outlets and every individual person really good at gathering information, compressing it and regurgitating it to the masses.
The last decade in the human information experience has been like living in a bowl, with access only to the bowl, and slowly cresting to the edge of the bowl, where you are suddenly inundated with all that comes with access to all the lies outside the bowl.
When the perspective of your world has been the bowl, the change in perspective is overwhelming, unsettling, challenging and even scary.
This certainly isn’t the first time that humans have crawled out of a smaller information bowl and into a bigger one, but it is certainly one of the more consequential moments.
In this age, if you are in your office in Los Angeles or your home in Minneapolis or driving to work in Dallas or on your farm in Iowa or on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you can be informed within moments of events that used to take hours, or days, to reach you.
When a bomb explodes in Ankara, or a drone launches an airstrike in Afghanistan, or a man is shot in Chicago, or a bus goes off a cliff in Peru, or a revolutionary protest is sparked in Egypt, you can not only know within minutes of its happening, but you can soon watch the bomb explode, or the aftermath of the drone strike, or the man being shot, or the bus going off the cliff, or bloodied faces yelling for freedom — and, you can watch it over and over and over and over and over and over.
Some say we are in a time where journalism is slowly dying, but with the perspective that time brings, we will look back and see that we are in a great journalistic renaissance, with such access as above as the catalyst.
But such access does have consequences. The process above can be repeated and repeated and repeated, day in and day out, and you become more and more and more desensitized to the point that nothing can really bother you anymore.
The idea that journalism is dying comes from those who lament the troubling loss of information control, and often, the loss of accuracy in that loss of control. Those paradigms are happening, and they are troubling, but we are in a time of change that will, in turn, require time to gain perspective and understanding, and build apparatuses to again gain proper control of information flow. (For all the anarchy fans out there, I know the word “control” can be anathema, but for most who are concerned about accuracy in informing people, there is an appreciation and understanding that proper control is a necessity and a blessing.)
Printed encyclopedias used to be fascinating static resources where you could seek out answers on myriad topics of the world, but they stayed at your home or office or library. Now, you take the answers to 99% of the world’s questions with you in your pocket everywhere you go and you can access it at a whim.
We are all becoming hyper-educated, relative to what we were before. We have more information than we know what to do with. We are struggling to figure out filters to manage it all. We can’t keep up with it all.
But as we adjust and technology is developed, we’re catching up to filtering it all properly again, just as we did when paper came along, and the telegraph, and the telephone and the radio, and the TV.
Until then, we’re faced with a stressful time.
Before anyone could mass broadcast their views to the world, you had newspapers, magazine, scheduled audiovisual broadcasts, and one-to-one or small group conversations — friends, family, coworkers, “man on the street” — where you could be exposed to bursts of negativity and debate, but then separate from it and go about your day. But today, you can spend every waking hour effortlessly ingesting negativity, debating people, viewing stunning and outrageous and emotional content and ideas.
All of this affects the mind and the body: your attention, your focus, your blood pressure, your emotional status, your opinions, your ideas of the world, your beliefs.
It drains you.
Journalists have always been exposed to these affects.
Journalists know that the content you see in reputable news sources has been vetted by aptly named “standards” units. “Standards” are people who are internally separate and removed from the general grind of the editorial process, who weigh in and give independent analysis and direction to the editors and producers who are putting out the final product that you see. If the editors or producers are questioning how to present a graphic image, or whether to present it at all, standards helps make the final call — ergo, you don’t often see reputable news outlets sharing images of dead bodies, moments of death, gore, faces of children in compromising situations, names of victims, suicides, and similar types of sensitive content. Exceptions are made in specific circumstances, but it’s not constant.
That doesn’t mean all journalists get enough training and support in dealing with vicarious sensory trauma — it’s an industry-wide issue. But the goal is to filter it out, so that you don’t have to experience, if you don’t want to.
But now, you can log onto Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and etc. and spend hours watching or looking at unfettered images of people’s heads being cut off, or sick babies dying, or people starving, or people committing all kinds of crimes. You’re seeing people die. You’re seeing vicious injuries. You see people getting robbed and held hostage, and generally more violence upon violence.
I believe in people having the right to do that — to see their world for what it really is — but if you don’t filter yourself, it quickly gives you the sensation that the world is going crazy and humanity is falling off a cliff, but in reality, these situations have always happened; you’re just consuming their documentation more, and more-often. I often see complaints that “news is so negative nowadays,” but the reality is that news has always been this way — from the beginning of “news” with the creation of language, long before “the mainstream media” was a concept, much less a cliche complaint.
But in the past, it was much more compartmentalized in our lives and much less omnipresent.
In this new age of information, everyone has been given what were once difficult-to-access powers to publish — which is great in many ways — but those powers need adjustments as we move forward. For each person consuming and publishing, it’s incumbent upon you, more than ever, to be your own editor.
You control what you publish and what you share with others.
And you control what you consume and how you let it affect you. As contemporary journalism changes and loses some control, you have to begin to implement control of what you consume for yourself.
If you think the flow of information doesn’t affect you mentally and physically, you’re wrong. Everything we sense has an affect on us. That’s why we have senses — to advise us on how we should experience and adjust to the world.
For myself, I have become more and more conscious of my daily consumption of information.
As a result, I’ve seen a decrease in my levels of stress.
Here are some of the things I do:
-Re-curate your intake:
Don’t become an information recluse, where you completely stop information flow, or where you maintain only sources that share your views, but do analyze your sources of negativity and take action to limit or remove them. If you have a friend on Facebook who constantly posts negativity, hide their posts. If you follow someone on Twitter who always makes you mad, consider unfollowing them or put them on a specific list. If you follow a news source that only shares the worst information, find a more even news source. Decide if you follow too many news outlets and whittle your list down. Of all the social platforms, force yourself to spend less time perusing Facebook. Facebook is great in many ways, but it’s also a huge viral negativity trap. Being algorithmically based, Facebook is driven by lots of the shocking, crazy, viral, outrageous content that creates stress, and with so much video now, it’s even more visual now. But, don’t blame Facebook: we all decide who we follow and who we let ourselves see.
-Pick your battles in your output:
The Internet allows for round-the-clock opportunity to project your opinions and debate people, including your friends and family. I believe in standing up for what you believe in and making your voice heard, but stop trying to convince the entire world to join your orbit. This is easily one of the most stressful things we all do on the Internet. When you come across an opportunity, stop and think, “Does this really matter? Is this something I really need to spend time on?” It’s hard at first, especially if you do it a lot, but just like a food diet, you get to where you don’t really miss it when you see the positive effects you get in return.
-Force yourself to be exposed to positivity and creativity, and make it a daily routine:
Find new sources that bring these elements into your life.
These are some that make my life better:
-Follow HONY everywhere: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/ — Everyone has a story.
-Follow The Ballerina Project everywhere: http://ballerinaproject.tumblr.com/ — The human body is a beautiful thing.
-Follow National Geographic everywhere: instagram.com/natgeo — This is an amazing world.
-Follow the US Interior everywhere: https://twitter.com/Interior — The US is a big, beautiful country.
It’s a very creative, visual platform that I find a lot of inspiration in. I’m often lost in a world of text and words, so opening Tumblr always launches me into a pleasing visual experience, with strong photography, thoughtful quotes and creative projects.
-Spend time getting lost in Vimeo’s Staff Picks.
https://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks Vimeo is like YouTube without all the crap. You can go anywhere in the world and see it through a creative lens. Join up, go to Categories, find Travel and spend time traveling the world. Go to Documentaries and spend time learning about off-beat people and ideas.
Consider the music you listen to:
Music changes your mood and affects your emotions. Many people are listening to music at basically every moment that doesn’t require them not to: To and from work, during work, at home, going to bed. You may not even realize just how much you’re listening to music that makes you feel bad or sad or riles you up.
And, go outside.
Ultimately, this all comes down to mental health. You control how you perceive your world. You are the only person who can take care of your mind and your body.