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Data, data and more data

Today the brain of an average worker must process 30 times more information than 20 years ago.

Era of Data overload

A single edition of the New York Times contains more information than a person would have been exposed to in a lifetime during the 17th century.

As per Dr Vermeulen, our challenge today, is that we lack the skills to cope with information overload and this is directly related to increasing stress levels. He further states that people forget up to 90% of what they learn within one week, reducing their ability to form long term memories. People are reading slower and using devices for everything ie. GPS, calculators, apps etc.

The long-term impact of our screen time addictions are not encouraging:

  • Poor attention spans and reduced capacity for critical thinking
  • Reduced creativity
  • Increased levels of anxiety
  • Depression and isolation
  • Lack of in-person social skills which is a critical component in the social fabric essential to being human

Data overload results in us being constantly distracted and our ability to pay attention to one thing and process it fully is seriously compromised.

Just for fun – some more stats

Information overload is killing our ability to make decisions. We make 200 more decisions than we are consciously aware of every day. Humans simply have too many decisions to make on a daily basis leading to decision fatigue. People find the act of decision making exhausting and the result is often to allow technology to ease the burden of decision making.

There are so many HD movies on the web today you would require 47 million years to watch them all. Over 1.8 billion websites exist and on average 571 new ones are created every minute.

We send 16 million text messages out every minute.

156 million emails are sent each minute worldwide and it is expected that there will be 2.9 billion email users by end of 2019.

There are 45,788 Uber rides generated each minute and 990,000 Tinder swipes sent out each minute.

Even finding love can now be outsourced to an algorithm. We are trusting big data-generated matches more than our own instincts.

We need to be aware that over relying on data and losing sight of the context, which more often than not can only be acquired through instinctive understanding and the value of conversations, can lead to danger.

Future relevance of the human species

The more we outsource our decision making to intelligent systems the less we are thinking creatively and autonomously. We are at risk of undermining our human instinct, one of the many unique features of being human. We certainly  risk un-learning  the art of instinctive decision making.

Our ability to think critically, together, is another of the features that distinguishes us as a species and yet these are the exact skills we outsource in the blink of an eye.

We stop speaking to each other, eye ball to eye, and resort to electronic communication as our primary form of connection, while wondering why people suffer from loneliness and lack engagement. We outsource our critical thinking to “Google” search engines where it is difficult to distinguish between high-quality and poor-quality content, then we make key decisions based on this data.

As we experience increased levels of data overload, managing and integrating all this data becomes a full time job, leaving little time for real-time interactions as we increasingly disengage from ourselves and “real” life.

Humans require long term memories to make connections and to allow the brain to see patterns, this impacts our ability find meaning in life, our ability to deeply understand cause and effect. In our current data overload environment we seldom build these essential long term memories since we are constantly being distracted by more and more data coming at us.

Conclusion

In this new landscape where humans increasingly experience “data drenching” we need to be aware of how this affects our brains and understand that having access to a lot of data does not build knowledge.

Gerd Gigerenzer from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, suggests gut feelings are the tools for an uncertain world, data creates only an illusion of certainty. We must accept that uncertainty will always be part of what it is to be human.

If we deny ourselves the challenge of critical thinking, evaluating situations and making our own decisions, we are heading towards a future where our species will lack the cognitive ability to think for ourselves. We will have surrendered our relevance to the machines we built.

It certainly is not all doom and gloom with connectivity being the enemy. There are many incredible and undeniable benefits of digital life, we simply need to re-balance and embrace our own humanity.

So, dare to unplug for a while, go outside and take a walk in nature. Speak to some face to face, take time out to think, set up time to meet with yourself and celebrate being uniquely human.

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