Stimulation overload

I can’t help but feel like I am being pulled in two very distinct directions.  One pull says, “COOL STUFF IS EVERYWHERE and you MUST EXPOSE YOURSELF TO ALL OF IT!” and the other says, “You need to chill out and stop poking your brain every second of every day,”.  Unfortunately, it appears this course is going to increase the strength of the first pull–the one that is already quite well muscled in my brain.

Signing up for 20 RSS feeds was the equivalent of opening 20 tabs that never close.  Twitter?  Now I have a third email to check way too often.  I don’t know when these quizzes are going to get marked because I am too busy looking for a better way to give quizzes on Google + !

In the face of ever-customized, ever-appealing content, what is a person to do?  One of the most simple learning lessons from this experience is well-written about over on  The article on doing nothing was one of the most important things I’ve read all year.  Its a monumental effort for me to just sit in one place and stare, but every time I actually do it, I am so grateful that I did!

All of this sounds like a pretty serious case of first world problems.  “There is too much amazing content out there for me to handle”.  In reality, I need to step back and tell myself things like this:

“I’ve done just fine up til now”

Photo Credit: velacreations via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: velacreations via Compfight cc

“Sometimes simple tools are more effective than complicated ones”

“All of that stuff isn’t going anywhere–I don’t need to know about it right this instant”

“Just because it is on someone’s blog/twitter/whatever, doesn’t mean it has any inherent value”

And most importantly:

“I have more important things to be doing”

It seems there is a bit of an intractable problem here.  Even if I make the internet “come to me”, the amount of content that I would like to see (and process, and act on) will increase.   I can’t say that searching for content is what takes up time–it is actually processing the content.  Signing up for RSS feeds (even if I avoid the crush of Boing Boing and Gizmodo) will only serve to increase my screen time.


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18 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    I think I know how you feel. There are times when I need to back away from the internet for a few days so I can regroup.

    I think that balance is important.

  2. Christina says:

    Hi Ryan!
    You could not have said it better – the pulling in all directions. Yes, there is so much out there, and processing it does take time. I always feel that if I find an idea for a lesson, there’s probably a better idea if I just keep looking a bit more. Then I’ve spent hours online! Hopefully this course will provide ideas on how to filter what’s good, and not so good.
    Good luck!

  3. Hi Ryan,
    I have to laugh – I’m up at 5 reading this so I can get in some of the reading before my 2 year old wakes up! I can definitely relate to that feeling of being pulled in all directions. In relation to there being all of this cool stuff that we need to explore, I sometimes worry that our students get so caught up in that side of things that they miss what it is we wanted them to learn. In recent reflection meetings with teachers, they have voiced concern that students are too caught up in the “computers” and lose sight of the other intended learning. Could this be that sense of overload at a 9-year-old level?

  4. The article you link to about the necessity to relearn stillness is the best thing I’ve read all day–and I’ve spent the last several hours exploring COETAIL blogs, doing the readings for Week One, and trying to sort through the inundation of my brand-new Feedly feed. That article is so accurate–I can’t even remember the last time I sat down and did nothing. Or even if I ever have.

    Do you think maybe that “intractable problem” you’re talking about is an example of how we view the internet? I know that before this week’s readings, I definitely saw the world wide web as a chaotic mass of content that was too overwhelming to sort through. But now, taking the time to comment on the blogs I find engaging and attempt to virtually reach out and befriend strangers, I’m beginning to see the value in viewing the internet as a network of connections. My Twitter feed might be refreshing in the background as I scroll through Feedly, but it isn’t until I take the time to sit and type back that I begin to feel I’m getting anything out of the connectivity. What do you think?

    • Ryan Lenz says:

      I think your idea that the “overload” is more of a viewpoint, rather than an absolute characteristic of the internet is interesting and useful. But how can we avoid the “Multiplier effect”, i.e. where you read a post which might have 3 links in it, and each of those has a few links, and soon you have totally lost track of where you started and what the ______ you were doing online in the first place! That happens to me on a daily basis. So how do we avoid it? As Tom mentioned earlier, sometimes you need to just back away–though that is certainly easier said than done.

      I’m not sure if I am as convinced that the internet is ‘more’ a web of connections vs. a web of content (they seem to be inextricably linked). Regardless of that, the web certainly becomes a more personal and less overwhelming place when you form relationships with the content providers (or, become one of them!).

      I’ve started asking questions on Twitter and I can see where it could be useful. That is still ‘in theory’, however. I asked about using Flashboard in the science room and got a reply from the Flipboard folks saying, “Please try it”. Kind of neat, and I’m sure more will come of this conversation as my network grows and I start to get familiar with the people in it.

  5. Matt Kelsey says:

    Ditto. I feel the overload as well. My first step has been turning off a lot of notifications on my smartphone and setting aside dedicated time for me to “connect” (check e-mail, Twitter, etc).

    When you’re getting into to you do need to open yourself up to the tidal wave of information, if for no other reason than to start filtering it out and winnowing it down to where it’s manageable and useful to you. It’s only going to get harder and harder as more and more voices compete for our attention. I think that the trend is going to bring us back to local – in the beginning, it was cool to be able to share with someone from Iceland, but in the end, the person in the same time zone teaching in the same context is going to have more relevant ideas to share with us.

  6. Sarah Peters says:

    Hi Ryan,
    I see a potential for a new skill to teach to middle or high school kids here… There used to be home economics, lots of schools don’t have shop class anymore, maybe the new management course should be for information gathering online? Some interesting unit titles:
    1. Cats: NO!
    2. Managing Celebrity News
    3. New York Times, The Guardian, NPR and coocoo commentors

  7. This will surely be a common theme felt throughout our course and cohort. For some of us, it’s become just a part of our workflow, while for others it may become overwhelming and stressful. A few tips off the top of my head:

    – Find a time that works best for you and try to form some routines for keeping up. For some it’s morning, while others it may be evening.

    – Don’t even bother trying to keep up with all the feeds, comments, posts, tweets, etc etc. It’s not gonna happen. That time is better spent giving a few quality posts your attention in that particular day and passing over the others.

    – For Twitter, use tools like Tweetdeck (I’ll break this down in subsequent posts soon) to help streamline your Tweets. I don’t even glance at my main Twitter stream anymore. I have searches and lists set up for things like, “Photography, Coetail, IT Directors, International Educators in Asia, Learning 2, etc”. Twitter is a bit like a river flowing by – you can’t possibly keep up with it all or you’ll drown. Learn to siphon off content that’s relevant to your interests and narrow it all down to smaller streams and trickles that are more manageable.

    – Feeds. Feeds. Feeds. How I love them and yet how they overwhelm me. There’s a distinct feeling of stress and desperation when I glance at the 200+ feeds that I’ve followed for years and see 10,000 unread posts. It’s almost like a personal challenge that can never be met. But in reality much of this is transient, light reading and if you follow lots of similar sources you can quickly see repeating articles. So I urge you not to make my mistake of following too many sites and don’t stress if you can’t keep up.

    – Balance. For sure. I’m on a screen an absurd amount of the day, but on the flip side I always make time for family, friends, the gym, walking the dog, reading physical books, photography, music and other non-techy interests. If you feel overwhelmed and out of balance with tech, take a day or two off of the coursework and reduce screen time to a minimum. Come back refreshed and ready to tackle small chunks at a time.

    This turned out longer than I expected. I must be avoiding work. 😉

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