When we decide to eat that warm, gooey, delicious cinnamon bun, we know we are making a trade-off – short-term happiness vs. time in the gym later.
When it comes to food, we don’t always make the best choices but we are generally aware of whether a food (or drink) is good for us. We have been taught to think about the value of what we eat and its impact on our health.
But when it comes to consuming information, we rarely consider either its cost or its value. As a result, we are experiencing an epidemic of outrageous proportions!
How much time do you spend consuming media – reading, watching, listening? According to a 2018 Nielsen report, American adults spend over 11 hours per day consuming and interacting with media.
Our most precious non-renewable resource is our time and if we spend almost half of it on media consumption, shouldn’t we think about the value of that content as much as we think about the value of our food?
We should, but we don’t. Low-value information over-consumption is an invisible mind block we need to address now, because it is costing us our lives.
While that may sound like an alarmist's exaggeration, I truly don’t think the problem can be overstated.
High vs Low Value Information
Processed food has nutrition labels so we can determine its value. Media content does not, so we have to label it ourselves. It’s a personal call.
My definition of low-value information is:
- It does not make me wiser, healthier, kinder, or more productive
- It does not improve my decision making or relationships
- It does not increase my understanding of others
- It has no lasting impact
Intention can also indicate low-value information:
- It is created only to evoke outrage or negativity, or to titillate and excite
- It is intended primarily to sell me something that will not help me
- Its purpose is to harvest my attention
Examples of content that is often low-value include:
- “News” from sources with a political or social agenda or that have been proven unreliable
- Opinion and analysis pieces (often labelled as news)
- Anything about celebrities or their opinions
- Stories about people behaving badly (politicians, criminals, celebrities)
- Meaningless social media posts
These examples are not always low-value, but in my experience they usually are.
One caveat - while pure entertainment may not be high-value information, it does have some value to us and can make us happy. We just need to moderate the amount. How much time do you really want to spend being entertained?
The best of both worlds is high-value information that is entertaining. (That is what I strive to bring my audiences in my speaking programs.) Art can also be highly entertaining and high-value, if the insights it provides into the human condition are valuable and relevant to us.
This is a critical time for us humans. The industrial revolution allowed food to become cheaper and more plentiful, which eventually spawned the obesity epidemic. Similarly, the information revolution now gives us free access to more information than we can possibly use, most of it with little or no value, creating “infobesity.”
Instead of costing us our health, it is costing us our time, which is just as dear.
Much of our behavior is done without conscious thought (thank you, lizard brain). Our consumption of information is a great example. Rarely do we think before we dive in. I certainly am guilty of clicking link after link, only to emerge an hour later to ask myself, "What was I thinking?!"
To become better versions of us, we need to make better use of our time, and that can only be done by making thoughtful decisions on how we spend it.
First, consider making your own list of criteria that qualifies information as high-value or low-value to you.
Then, before sitting down with your computer, phone, magazine, book, or TV, take a few seconds to compare the content you are about to consume against your criteria. Sometimes you can't tell the value until you start into it. If it is low-value, is that really the best use of that slice of your time? Of your life?
Think well, be well!
- Steve Haffner