How to Deal With Information Overload

These days there is no shortage of information. In fact, for most it is an information overload that can be disorienting and frustrating. Where do we start? How do we feel capable to attack a project without reading every little trick available? It can be paralyzing for many.

Yet, in the same conversation, some people would have you believe higher college education is necessary or that there are many underprivileged people who never have an opportunity to learn. While there are certainly people in remote areas or situations where learning is difficult, this seems like a paradox.

The reality, is that humans have had two recent developments that made information far easier to access and utilize.

1. The printing press — Developed by Gutenberg a few hundred years ago, this creation was initially used to destroy the “tyranny” of the Catholic church and free people across Europe (and then the globe). After that came a wave of information that allowed people to read and learn. Before, only clergy were offered the luxury of reading (and perhaps some royalty).

2. The Internet — Creating the Internet has not only made it possible for people to access books online, it has allowed everyone to connect and provide content with one another. You can learn what it is like to live in Ukraine from the comfort of the United States. You can see inside the Syrian civil war from your computer chair.

Both of these developments have made astounding changes, but I believe the most powerful tool is still…

… the book.

When I used to research World War II topics, there was a ton of information online, but somehow the books always had pieced together more than internet resources. Many times wisdom is in the form of a book that never makes it to the Internet.

For people who are self-motivated and self-educated, books present the number one best learning tool for a few reasons. Firstly, it is completely distilled knowledge. Sure, there are some garbage books, but in general the authors take the time to write a concise narrative of whatever skill or life lesson they try to impart.

Secondly, it is possible to read books in places where internet is not available. I have spent time in prison and it was books that saved me. They allowed me to learn and focus on improving myself when there were no other options. There are plenty of low-income areas and situations where this is also true.

These days almost everyone has the opportunity to learn how to read. Not all of the people use that opportunity to learn, but public schooling offers that opportunity nonetheless. Not everyone has access to the internet, but there are certain books everyone should read especially during critical moments in one’s life (such as 20s and 30s).

Articles full of great information on the internet are often overwhelming because they don’t dive into a subject deeply enough. In some ways, that is great. People are offered the opportunity to learn about a topic that isn’t broad enough to fit into a book. However, it is stressful for some people to have that availability of information. Don’t want to believe me? Check out another few reasons to read books.

The number of people who read nothing besides “The Four Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss and had business success is astounding. They found a single methodology, implemented, and had success. The people who read the book along with 20 other articles about perfecting marketing and business online probably made less progress. They got stuck. They did not implement because they had too much.

I’m a big fan of books and a proponent of using them over information through the internet as best as possible. Why? It’s easier to follow up. It’s easier to take action.

At the end of the day, reading to improve yourself is great only if you take action on that information. That is how humans learn, iterate, and make knowledge into wisdom.