Ssh! On Information Overload

*peeks out from behind blog* He…hello? (Projection: Drunken Dragon Reviews will be the first blogger to point out the irony of my writing a post several days after saying, “I quit.”)

But it’s my space, damn it, and I’ll be inconsistent if I want! As Walt Whitman might say, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.” Or, to quote someone more on my intellectual plane, Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

It occurred to me, in the days (hours?) following my decision to cease blogging that my problem might be identified as one of “input versus output.” In other words, the output was this blog and the variety of interactions I engage in on social media. The input was the variety of information I receive daily, not merely through sensory experience, i.e., walking down the street, but also via the Interwebz. When I’m talking to someone on Twitter, I am by virtue of the medium receiving a stream of information from other people, much of it peripheral, to be sure, but still there nonetheless. I would come home after staring at a screen all day, more and more often at spreadsheets and databases that are (tens of) thousands of rows long, open up WordPress, and…there were 42 new blog posts to sift through. To me–but not necessarily to you–that’s exhausting.

Social scientists, and, in their wake, journalists, have begun to comment on the daily flood of information people confront. Anxiety is the most common result. In my personal experience, I recall logging into Twitter the first time and thinking, “Oh my God, what is this, it doesn’t stop!” And it did cause me anxiety. Yet I couldn’t look away. Still can’t. Favorite. Favorite. Retweet. Researchers have identified Facebook as a source of anxiety and depression in some users, possibly due to the large number of cat videos in their news feeds. (Just kidding. Everyone loves cat videos.)

The analog version.

The analog version.

In summary, then, individuals must absorb larger and larger amounts of information, much of it of varying quality. Sociologists have long noted the affect media consumption has on our ways of thought–during the 1990s, we feared gang violence, a relatively rare phenomenon, far more than we did the negative health consequences of pollution, which is rampant–but the quantity of information presented to us daily is simply overwhelming. You may filter it, of course, but then you’re exacerbating the selection bias you practice without even realizing it. You end up with blind spots bigger than a house.

Some of this is a matter of personality, personal preference. Perhaps I simply have a low tolerance for much of this social media tomfoolery. (Although it doesn’t really stop at “social media.”) I suspect that some of it is the way I’m constructed. We’re all familiar with the notion of introverts and extroverts, although, as I understand it, and perhaps From Couch to Moon will be kind enough to correct me if I’m wrong, there really is no such thing as an introvert or an extrovert; rather, we all exist somewhere along an introversion/extroversion “spectrum.” Those who tend toward introversion, though, are “low energy” and are more quickly wearied by external stimuli. That’s why introverts don’t do well at parties; there’s simply too much going on. (Note: Shyness and introversion aren’t the same thing, although they can coexist. I suffer from introversion and grumpiness.)

I wasn’t able to describe any of this until a few years ago, after reading Susan Cain’s 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It was only after reading Quiet that I realized that I didn’t like parties because they provide me too much sensory stimulation. Plainly: They’re loud. And I have to talk to people. With whom I’m minimally familiar. For hours at a time. Prior to Quiet, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe my experience. So I mumbled my way through many a shindig, suffering in begrudging silence, only to retreat to my lair at the earliest opportunity. (Quiet is a very accessible and easy book to read. Readers without children can skip several chapters near the middle that deal exclusively with the ways in which various settings, for instance, schools, are stacked against child introverts. Readers with children will likely find those chapters of interest.)

My struggle over the past few weeks has been “How do I sift the digital wheat from the electronic chaff?” as much as it has been “Do I hate blogging?” Characteristically, my response has been retreat. Fall back, fall back, dig in. But even that is only a stopgap. I might feel secure behind my Maginot Line, but the digital blitzkrieg rushes on. To put it another way: If I have limited cognitive bandwidth, how do I maximize its usage in terms of the variety of inputs demanding my attention?

Closed for Business

Indefinitely

Indefinitely

After long and (perhaps) careful deliberation, I have decided to cease blogging. Although I still love reading and discussing books and, to the degree that I am capable of it, writing, I find the “management” of blogging–e.g., planning posts, the sense that one is obligated to post about rather than merely enjoy every book–exhausting. What was supposed to be a diversion ended up feeling like a job, and, of course, I already work full time. Suffice it to say that I have a limited store of energy on which to draw, and blogging taxes rather than recharges what is a precious resource.

I’m not going to cancel my account or remove my blog. Keeping the blog means I will be able to return to it some day, or post intermittently, should the muse strike. More importantly, having my account will permit me to continue to follow those friends and “colleagues” I made while blogging. Some of you follow me through Twitter and Goodreads, to which I am linked here; if you don’t already, feel free to follow me there. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

To the West.

I'm finished.

I’m finished.

From the Archives: Review: Eerie America

Is there a creepier month than…FEBRUARY?

“Uh, yeah,” you’re thinking. “How about October? With the ghosts ‘n’ the goblins ‘n’ the pumpkins that are carved with the candles inside Jell-O puddin’ pop!” You’re channeling Bill Cosby, but you’re calling me out? You better take a long, hard look at yourself, pal.

Think about it, though. February has all kinds of creepy things. Exposed hearts everywhere. Weird little winged dudes in diapers. The commodification of romance. And Presidents’ Day. Seriously, who knew Washington and Lincoln were so into selling furniture and cars? Shouldn’t they have been running the country? Creepy.

Eerie America, Eric R. Vernor & Kevin Eads

Eerie America, Eric R. Vernor & Kevin Eads

So it only made sense for me to review Eerie America by Eric R. Vernor and Kevin Eads last February, during the spookiest month of all. Eerie America is a guidebook to the creepiest locations in each of the 50 states. And the District of Columbia. (But who cares about DC, amirite?)

One year ago today: I reviewed Eerie America: Travel Guide of the Macabre (Schiffer Publishing, 2014).

From the Archives: Review: Wolfhound Century, Peter Higgins

As far back as I can remember, I had a fascination with Russia.

It began when I was a child. This was the mid-1980s. The Cold War, as they say, was hot. Sitting in the back yard one summer night, my next door neighbor pointed to the lights of a plane passing overhead and said, “That’s a Soviet spy satellite.” I remember feeling awe at the audacity of America’s arch-nemesis. Later, when the Berlin Wall fell, my father, a baby boomer, was entranced by the news footage, saying over and over again, “I never thought I’d see the day.”

The world seemed different then. Funny how things change.

Through the years I read quite a bit of Russian history. In university, I completed courses in Russian language and culture. People complain that Russian sounds harsh and angry, but it’s really a very musical language, you know?

Wolfhound Century, Peter Higgins

Wolfhound Century, Peter Higgins

So I had to read Peter Higgins’s Wolfhound Century, which is a fantastical reimagining of the USSR (which overlaps, but is not synonymous, with Russia). I haven’t further pursued the series. Perhaps I’ll correct that this year.

One year ago today: I reviewed Peter Higgins’s Wolfhound Century.

Inbox/Outbox: January 25-January 31

I find satisfying months that end on Saturdays. Very satisfying. It provides me the sense that all is well, that everything is in order, when, in fact, we are all hurtling higgledy-piggledy toward our deaths. Ah. That’s the stuff.

Inbox

1304618376_tumbleweed-gif

Hey, man. I never said I buy, borrow, steal, receive as gifts, or otherwise acquire books every week. That said, I am happily ensconced in Half the World (Del Rey, February 2015), Joe Abercrombie’s follow-up to 2014’s Half a King. Gosh, I love Abercrombie’s writing.

Outbox

A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick

This is just to say

I began working on a review

of A Scanner Darkly

by PKD

About which

you couldn’t care less

but what

the hell

Forgive me

I got a cold

And just didn’t

feel like it

Well, at least I started it. Expect it go live on February 4 or 5.

Indeed, there is a veritable bounty of reviews forthcoming. Because of my lackadaisical posting throughout January, I have a backlog for the next few weeks, including:

  • Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts
  • Signal to Noise, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (out February 10)
  • And, of course, the aforementioned Half the World (out February 17)

Having learned a thing or two about blogging last year, I’ll be scheduling breaks on a rolling basis, the first likely taking place February 22-28.

BTW, February ends on a Saturday. Oh, yeah.