As I transitioned through school, college and work life, I have been learning an important skill – being selective of what information I consume. When I was in school, we had limited resources to acquire information from – popular books, magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias. It took quite a bit of effort to get our hands on these. With the coming of internet, this challenge turned a thing of past. Now, we have instant access to unlimited information with minimal cost. But there is a new challenge – that of sifting through the information overload!
There is a famous psychology research on choice, human satisfaction and motivation by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper (2000). The study found that too much choice can actually be counterproductive and that more isn’t always better. It is the same way with information I feel. We are bombarded with hundreds of opinions on thousands of subjects which gets stressful when it takes up unwarranted time and mental energy. Furthermore, even though there is unlimited information, quality information is relatively rare and accessing that has been rendered more complicated than ever. Conversely, poor quality information is abundant and it breeds mediocrity. There are plenty of articles and videos on the web and forwarded messages on the phones that lack any depth or sound reasoning, only charge the emotions. They still receive plenty of acknowledgement. It can be hard for the audience to discern between high and low-quality content without a conscious effort simply because there is information everywhere and our natural tendency is to consume what comes our way most easily – often social media. But it is at this point I feel one needs to exercise discretion and be very cautious of what we read, listen or watch. My post relates most to selective reading although I believe much should concur with other informational sources.
Being selective means choosing good quality content and the best way to recognize good quality is to experience it. Coming across the good quality stuff is the difficult part as it often includes moving outside the comfort zone of your mind, questioning your own thought process and beliefs. In that regard, I have an experience to share. I always enjoyed writing and received perhaps unduly praise in my hometown where I had a large network of well-wishers and friends. After my high school, I moved to Delhi to study at Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), one of the top colleges in the country. It was a completely new place to me with hardly any connections. I applied to a student editorial club with a writing sample that had won an award previously. I was pretty confident of getting selected until the moment I got to know that I didn’t. It was tough to digest of course. I suddenly felt unsure of my abilities. No doubt, it was a very competitive place. But I liked writing from the bottom of my heart so I wasn’t going to quit. I used to consider my writing as good but now I wanted to see what was considered better, to learn from it. In this pursuit, I started reading better quality content – the articles written by my peers at SRCC, which in turn started improving my writing. The key lies in realizing that whatever information we consume impacts our thinking and thus all other skills associated with thinking!
From what I have observed of most people, refined reading is an acquired skill. I still try to grasp a lot of nuances such as what the author actually means by her words because not everything is straightforward, or what does a particular style of writing reveal about the writer, or in what ways might the author have been environmentally influenced. Some insights that I have gleaned in the process of filtering information –
- It is imperative to remember that content creators are other humans who in turn have some self-interest in publishing the content. Whether the self-interest is a positive, negative or a neutral influence on the content needs to be determined.
- In terms of online information, follow the right people i.e. those who have an eye for good content. They may be beyond the first connections. Leaders/scholars in the field of interest are usually the best sources. Typically, they are the most well-read and well-aware. Their recommendations and sources are a good starting point. Twitter is perhaps the best form of social media for this reason as you can follow anyone.
- Be careful of the self-proclaimed content-creators. You can identify them easily with experience.
- Books remain a gold standard for learning about a certain topic.
- Be aware about the confirmation bias i.e. “a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.” Think critically about any information that comes your way. Question it and take some time before getting convinced.
Please share more tips on information filtering/selective reading in the comments below 🙂
Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 995-1006.
Confirmation Bias: https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/confirmation_bias.htm