Is Information Overload Real? Yes. So is Contribution Overload.

by Lynn Churchill, Team ATII Experteer

“You can help by donating as little as a dollar a day. That’s less than the price of a cup of coffee!”

“Save the rainforest now!”

“We’re melting! Mellllllllting! Help us stamp out global warming!”

“Did you know that many American children go to bed hungry? Now you can do something about it!”

“Cancer is estimated to claim the lives of well over 600,000 Americans this year… “

And on it goes… that cacophony of voices, until you just. Can’t. Take. Any. More.

After all, you’re already stretched so thin. Between work, family obligations, running errands and running a household, and attempting to carve out a tiny bit of time for some badly needed self-care (which usually fails), you’re mentally exhausted. Maybe physically, as well. On top of all that, maybe you’re already clocking in a few volunteer hours at your place of worship, your kid’s school, or elsewhere.

Now, add to all that what is known as information overload, and you have the perfect storm of tempestuous crazy-making.

What is Information Overload?

The term, “information overload” is often said to have been coined by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 classic, “Future Shock”.

But according to Google Books, it was coined by author Bertram Myron Gross in his 1964 book  “The Managing of Organizations: The Administrative Struggle, Volume 1”.

Whomever it was, psychologists and other experts do know that information overload is when you find it difficult to think clearly and make decisions (rational ones, anyway) – not because you haven’t been furnished with enough information, but ironically, too much. A case of TMI to the extreme. It’s too much stuff for the brain to process and eventually, our eyes glaze over and all we can do is stare catatonically into space, or curl up in a corner and whimper, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

And it’s as if the internet and everything it contains is designed to suck you into its giant vortex and keep you there, spinning ‘round and ‘round forever.

The rabbit trails of how-to articles, the latest, greatest tech gear, what the celebs are up to, the local, national, and world news and so forth seem to wash over us in never-ending waves, as they vie for our attention. Throw in the colossal distractions of social media and we may never emerge from our Bermuda Triangle of information.

Contribution Overload

And now we’re being asked to contribute our time or hard-earned money (or both) to yet another deserving organization. But we don’t feel as if we can even care about the plight of one more environmental issue, one more illness, or even one more person, let alone do anything about it. After all, we can’t save the world.

It’s not that we’re cold, uncaring people. We’re just overloaded. There’s a lot of stuff competing for our attention, everywhere, all the time.

So, what can we do about it?

Plenty. First, start with generalized information overload and common time-sucks.

  • Set Limits – You could spend a lifetime in front of the TV, and a thousand lifetimes online. Many parents set strict limits on screen time for their kids; maybe this would be a good thing for everyone, regardless of age. Yes, many of us must be at a computer all day for work. But we can impose limits even there, by refusing to be lured away from our work by things like social media and other rabbit trails. Shutting off the cell phone and using our breaks to walk away and stay away from social media et al. could help, too. Yes, even during the lunch hour. Maybe especially during the lunch hour.
  • Filter, filter, filter – No one is suggesting you never go on social media or surf the ‘net. But when you do, be a picky eater at the online smorgasbord. Unlike most people at a huge buffet, go for small amounts of quality versus quantity.
  • Delegate – Many people seem to feel as if they must do everything. Stop it. Give yourself a break and delegate. Hand out tasks like Halloween candy, both at home and at work, along with a generous and enthusiastic dose of encouragement along the lines of, “I know you’ve got this!”
  • Unsubscribe –  Do you really need to be on all those mailing lists and signed up for all those push notifications? Probably not. Remember the smorgasbord, and go for the quality stuff.

Then, move into the contribution overload.

  • Be a picky eater at the smorgasbord of good causes – Think about the things that are extremely important to you, and really move you in some way. What kinds of things going on out in the world make your heart sing for joy? What kinds of things make you so furious you can’t see straight?
  • Just say no – There are times when you just need to say no to things that you’re not passionate about – especially things that you’re not fond of doing in the first place. Do you really enjoy crocheting for the Doilies for Grandmas group, or chaperoning those fourth-grade field trips to the local bug museum? Another consideration is, how important are things like this? Not just to you personally, but to the citizens in your locale, or state. And in this country. In the world. How important are they in the grand scheme of things?
  • Do something different – So, you’d like to do something to help a cause that is near and dear to your heart. Great! Maybe you have money to give, which is always needed, but maybe you don’t. Or maybe you’ve already implemented some of the above suggestions and now feel you can give of your time, even if it’s only a little. But the organization you’d like to help isn’t based in your area or even if they are, you’re just not sure what you can do for them. This is where thinking outside the box comes in. What are your interests and skills? For example, I’m a writer. To put it simply, I love writing and hate slavery (a.k.a. human trafficking). The answer was obvious: volunteer to write for a human trafficking organization that I admire. Plus, I can do it from my home office.

Think about your skills and how they might benefit your chosen organization. What is your profession? What kind of hobbies interest you – even if it’s something you haven’t been able to do in years? For me, one thing I’ve always been good at and loved to do is ride horses, and teach others how to ride, although it’s been many years since I’ve owned a horse. I’d love to be able to volunteer some time at a riding rehab center, but alas, there are none in my area. But I use it as an illustration to show that it’s not always necessary to transfer your skills in the workplace to a volunteer position. Sometimes it can be something you do (or did in the past) for fun.

But wait, you mournfully think. I can’t possibly do ANY of the above. So, what’s left? Well, if you’re a praying person, any and all faith-based organizations would appreciate your prayers. And maybe even some that aren’t faith-based.

Not so much? Then how about putting that time on social media to good use? Once you know who you’d love to support, sing their praises on social, including plenty of links back to their sites. Let people know how wonderful they are, what they do and why, how they contribute to society and help others, and their goals. Shouting it from the rooftops, so to speak, is no small thing, and those served by anti-trafficking organizations especially benefit from this type of promotion. (You’ll find ATII’s social media links at the bottom of this page.)

Bust the Overload

Eliminating information overload is essential if we want to be productive and hold onto our sanity. And eliminating the “contribution overload” is essential as well, if we want to contribute something more to our society in a meaningful way.

Search your heart. Do your online research – which is screen time well spent. Be creative. Take your mind out of that cramped box and let it soar free on the wind of possibility. Then contact the folks you’d like to team up with and brainstorm ways you can help. They’ll be more grateful than you know.

And you’ll be grateful to yourself for having done something truly meaningful.