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Friday Refills - Don't Cram the Information Firehose... Filter and Focus!

Published 2/5/2021

We are not well adapted to focus and filter information. For the majority of human history, the information available was virtually all relevant.


But now, we have an overload of information. Our first reaction is to believe we need to know it all to succeed... But we immediately run into a problem: there's vastly more than we can ever handle. So we resort to silly brain tricks to convince ourselves and others that we either know it all, or that most information isn't important.


We can do better.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Happy Friday everybody. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and this is episode number three of Developer TeaFriday Refills. I've been doing these Reddit streams recently. I'm hop on to Reddit public access network. It's their new streaming service and I try to answer questions. Many of them recently have been about GameStop stocks. So I have to kind of ignore those. But one that came today was about the problem of having a teacher that doesn't like you and specifically is overloading you and the other students with work. And this seems to be a problem. We face in school and it is a problem because this is a really bad way to learn. Recent research shows that that if you try to cram in a bunch of information it's going to go out as quickly as it came in. Now what's interesting is we don't need recent research to kind of gain this insight. In fact way back in the first century AD, Seneca said this. He said since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply but rejects everything which is so to speak crammed into it. Think about that for a second. The mind when it distracted absorbs nothing deeply but it rejects everything which is crammed into it. When it's when we're distracted we're not going to absorb anything. We don't need research to tell us this. We can experience this. Many of us already do experience this and yet for some reason our intuition tells us that we can cram things or a close analogy to this. Not just cramming but we can multitask. We can try to do more than one thing at once. So there's two things going on here. First is the speed at which we are trying to put information in our minds. And the second is the parallel nature of whatever we're trying to do, whatever we're trying to put in our minds as well. Now to be very clear when we say parallel we're not talking about switching from one task to another which has a different type of overhead. We're talking about actually trying to do two things at once which is nearly impossible. Our brains are not good at this. We're very bad at trying to retain a lot of information all at once. So what is it exactly about this intuition and where does it come from? Why do we believe this and what do we do about it? Well first it should be noted that the vast amount of information that we have available to us now is new. We haven't had this much information in our world in any generation before this. Of course we've always been kind of increasing information levels but more recently the increase has been exponential. And for this reason we don't really have an evolved state for understanding this vast array of information. So instead we're resorting to some heuristics that we have that may not necessarily represent what our brains are actually good at doing. If you imagine what we evolved to do which is to make sense out of a limited amount of information and compare that to what we're having to do now which is try to filter out the information that doesn't matter. We still don't really know how to do that. And so filtering out information that doesn't matter tends to look less logical and more emotional. But getting back to the point of why are we believing that we can cram all this information in? Part of that is because we've never been faced with this much information before and we evolved to be able to generally understand a very large relative share of the information. So in other words our group of people we all had about the same amount of information and most of that information was the same information. We didn't have this highly heterogeneous mix of information that the internet has certainly provided to us. And so we don't really know how to control what information we should or shouldn't be taking in and because there's a fire hose of that information. Perhaps and this isn't necessarily proven. It's just the theory. We are trying to respond to the fire hose by cramming all of that information in as quickly as we can. But here's my advice for you today in this Friday refill. And as you go into your weekend, I want for you to number one, accept that you will not be able to even come close. Not even a fraction of the available information will you be able to even lay eyes on, much less evaluate and absorb. And then secondly, to change your environment, change your habits, change your physically, you could go into your phone and change the way that you receive information. Rather than that information being pushed at you and you having to face that information, change that dynamic to where you are seeking out the information yourself. What does this do? It means that you are selectively filtering what information comes to you. One way to do this very practically speaking is to turn off your notifications. Now this achieves another goal that's related to that original cynical quote. It helps us be less distracted. And when we're less distracted, we can focus on the things that we really care about. That filtering mechanism we're talking about, we can find that filter again. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Friday ReFills. This is a part of Developer Tea. If you enjoyed this conversation, you would probably enjoy the rest of this podcast. You can subscribe and whatever podcasting app you're currently using. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.