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Focus is the new IQ - Part 2

Updated: 6 days ago

It is also possible to consume too much information

You get up in the morning. You check something on your phone: your email, news, facebook, instagram, whatever. You haven't even got your brain into gear yet, but you've already started consuming content. News feeds, pictures, videos, music, articles, posts, emails, blog posts, e-books and e-magazines. Digital content is like food: some is nutritious, some helps you grow (called information), some is empty calories (noise), some can be destructive.

For most of its 2 million years of history, humanity has lived with little carbohydrate and fat-rich food. The last few decades of the food industry have brought such an abundance that shelves of such foods are now packed in supermarkets. The combination of the evolutionary encoding of a sense of scarcity, cravings and increasingly accessible processed foods has created a risky combination. We shouldn't, but we overeat on foods we previously barely had access to, and our bodies can't keep up with the sudden abundance.

The result is well known: a significant proportion of the population in developed countries is obese. It has taken a century to recognise the downsides of this system, and today we are once again trying to fuel our bodies properly.

Fast food after fast content

It's the same with the information that surrounds us. Like food, we have started to consume a lot of content quickly.

Information technology has advanced so much in the last few decades that it has brought the Mechi into your pocket and you can eat virtual bigmeets, or 'fast' content, at any time.

In the virtual world, the temptation is even greater because you don't have to wait for your order or shop, you can consume instantly. We are far from understanding the impact of this level of technology on our lives, but we are using it intensively. Not so long ago, if you wanted to send a message to someone, you had to write it by hand, buy an envelope and a stamp, and post it at the post office. Today it takes 2 minutes and your digital letter is on the other side of the world.

Technology makes our lives so much easier. But have our everyday lives really become more relaxed? Today, we don't have to think about what we write to someone because they receive it and can reply immediately. An average work inbox is now full of letters that (usually due to poor prioritisation by the sender) demand an immediate reply. And Facebook and Instagram news feeds are full of content that makes you feel like if you're left behind, you're left out. In this constant pressure, we spend little time filtering content, instead we consume it. This is how we kill time whenever we're even a little bit bored. We're back to where we were in the nutrition story a few decades ago. We are overconsuming. Moreover, this does not even have spectacular effects such as obesity or other physical illnesses. So it is even harder to detect the negative consequences. I will deal with this in more detail in an upcoming article.

We are ancestors in the digital age

The graph below shows the relationship between information overload, our brain capacity and the difference between the two:

The yellow arrows represent the growing gap between the increasing amount of content we are being inundated with (green curve) and our limited brain capacity (red line) /ifyou are interested in what is causing this information explosion, read the first part of this article series/. We cannot (yet) build extra processors or memory into our brains to process this increased amount of information. Technological advances have stalled the evolutionary progress of Homo Sapiens. If we think we can pay more attention or process information faster than our hunter-gatherer ancestor from 15,000 years ago or our ancient pyramid-building ancestor from Egypt 5,000 years ago, we are wrong. Our brains have had the same capabilities for 30,000 years. According to evolutionary psychology research, our grey matter is "wired" for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle before the agricultural age, as the above food example supports.

What you listen to is no longer just important to you

More and more, there is information that the brain cannot process. So you ignore and filter much of the content that comes to your attention. Clearly, this means that information has to compete for your attention. This is the competition that big technology companies have entered into.

User data has become one of the most valuable commodities today. It has therefore become a business interest to influence your attention.

How did Facebook or Google become the richest companies in the world if you can use their software for free? In the shop window, you have a fancy digital platform where you can connect, make friends, express opinions, read news. You're drawn in. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they profile you, looking at your activity, what you like, what your hobbies are, who you follow. The more time you spend in the app, the more accurate a picture they get of who you are and what you can sell. This data - which is personal - is sold to other companies who then bombard you with targeted ads that match your interests.

How is a complete economic model built to manage and exploit our attention? That's what I write about in the next section.


Source: István Liska: Focus is the new IQ - Part 2


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