The other day I was thinking about the amount of new information that comes at us daily compared with, say, 200 years ago. Today with the internet, online news and social media, much more information comes at us than our ancestors experienced.
Our brains automatically ignore things we judge to be irrelevant to our current situation, which frees our minds up to pay attention to the things that matter. We don’t need to respond to every stimulus; our brains can only handle so much input at a time.
2oo years ago, our ancestors had to ignore certain things too. They didn’t need to tune in to every sound of hoofbeats outside or the rooster crowing. They were able to focus on reading books or the newspaper, and talking to each other.
Reading books, newspapers and letters, and spoken conversations were the main methods of information input, and only so much information could come via those means in a day. Compare that with today, where an infinite amount of information can come your way daily via the internet, television and radio.
I wondered what that does to people’s brains. There is evidence showing that people’s attention spans are shorter than they were in years past due to the instant information available by clicking through links. I have an idea of the mechanism behind this:
We are teaching our brains to ignore information, not to absorb it.
Think about it: back in the olden days, people had time to take in the information presented to them, and had time to think about it. Mental processing took place, ideas took shape. People’s brains learned how to absorb information and process it.
Now, just a few minutes on Facebook is a lesson in ignoring. Cat videos, news stories, photos of someone’s meal, questions, answers, stories, pictures. Most of it is not directly relevant to me, so it washes over me and is forgotten. My brain isn’t learning to absorb and process information, it’s learning to ignore and forget.
Now that I have realized this is what’s going on, I want to teach my brain to absorb and process again. I want to read more books and fewer news bites. I want more meaningful conversations with people I know and less random interaction with lots of people I don’t know. I want to take the time to absorb the information that is relevant to me, and process my thoughts about it.
What do you think about the idea that today’s rapid influx of information is teaching our brains to ignore the majority of information that comes our way?