Cognitive Demands & Positive Feedback Loops

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I always enjoy the Art of Manliness website and it's podcast. In this episode of the podcast the host Brett McKay is talking with a psychologist about the rise of anxiety and lack of agency many people feel in this day & age. In one part they discuss how the sheer amount of information available to us, and the choices to be made, create more cognitive demands on us, and increase stress. This makes me think of systems. It's a positive feedback loop where our society has continued to add information into our mental systems. These are now bloating and one of the ways we see that bloat is in a surplus of mental health issues. It seems that decreasing screen time, time consuming articles, info, etc. would all have a good effect of counteracting that growth and stress from sifting all the information & corresponding decisions. (That's why I am an advocate of tech sabbaths at the least.)

"Too much of a good thing is not a good thing."

Alacrates's picture

(haven't listened to the podcast yet)

The thing I find most mentally fragmenting about the internet is the barrage of articles coming one's way (or really, for the most part, the barrage of headlines, as I'm sure we all only read a small fraction of the articles we see, and just sort of get the gist of most from the headline and maybe the thumbnail image displayed beside it.

I was participating in a discussion group about climate change, and people started sharing a lot of articles among the e-mail list. I think a lot of people found them disorienting, they were coming from a lot of disparate, and I think sometimes contradictory, viewpoints. Some were on appropriate technology or higher tech solutions, a lot of despairing articles about the general state of the environment, some on eco-socialism, spiritual topics, psychology, etc.

I think sometimes a wide range of disparate views can coalesce into an interesting, unique local group outlook, I've seen this before, but I didn't feel this happening here. I think for the most part people were overwhelmed by the articles, did not look into most of them, and then felt vaguely out of the loop, and continued on in their own niche views and preoccupations.

I think in part this is because articles tend not to give a lot of context to what they are discussing, they assume a lot of agreement or prior knowledge, and tell a small story within that field. But if people don't have a good basis in something like climate science or technology, I think the articles can be a frustrating, kind of like constantly hearing about little, isolated advancements in calculus, when you don't really have a grasp on arithmetic or algebra yet.

For me personally, the antidote for this is books. Even if every piece of information in that book is readily available on the web, I still think there is a lot of value in having an author collect up information, edit it down, and relay it in a coherent way, that tells something of a narrative form. I really find that once I go through a few books on a topic I'm interested in, I have a much clearer feeling in my mind, the information that I have taken in is much more organized and related.

Even thinking back to the days that I read newspapers, found there to be more mental coherence in that article-based form than the internet. The paper had a familiar format, it came in regular intervals, it was edited. What you were reading today usually had some connection to what you had read earlier in the week. You got to know various reporters and columnists, so you had a feel for where the ideas and articles were coming from. (I guess this is why I like reading blogs from authors I know, rather than the random articles that my phone suggests to me, I have a feel for where the text is coming from.)

In that climate change group, I also found people seemed more eager to simply share articles than to discuss them, which baffles me. Just a link sent out in an e-mail really doesn't do a lot for me, even if the article is alright, like anyone with an internet connection, I could easy drown myself in interesting articles, I don't really need help for that!

What I'm personally more interested in is hearing the thoughts of that person, who I know in particular, rather than the thoughts of someone I don't know at all. In this group and others, I've felt a bit alone in that preference - I have a feeling that people don't really trust hearing the ideas of people they know, they kind of prefer the authority of the article. But for myself, I'm not trying to get conclusive knowledge from the people I interact with (for that I will go to more authoritative sources) I'm more trying to get a feel for how this particular person is thinking, and what they have come across.

I do continue to share articles, but I try to usually write up something of my own so that people could just respond to that, if they don't want to go read the full article. (But, I'm such a wordy person, I think my write ups can be just as hard to read as the articles themselves, if not moreso!!)

dtrammel's picture

"I think sometimes a wide range of disparate views can coalesce into an interesting, unique local group outlook, I've seen this before, but I didn't feel this happening here. I think for the most part people were overwhelmed by the articles, did not look into most of them, and then felt vaguely out of the loop, and continued on in their own niche views and preoccupations."

Alacrates, thank you very much for this observation.

Sometimes I find it hard to do the larger work of writing original comments and blog posts and in compensation do post a collection of articles and links I've come across. I'm on the newsletter list of several other sustainability and collapsing websites. I see links sometimes which make me think, "Wow that's important" which occasionally spark long reply threads here and sometimes don't. I'm never sure just what all of you will talk about.

After the reboot this January we're in a bit of a pause. That's mostly me. I will say that I've grown enough bothered by the climate and situation in the World that we're in right now that I've been seriously considering quitting my job, taking a 1 year long sabbatical from working all together for an employer, concentrating of lots of Green Wizard material and getting my retirement home to the point I could move out of this rental and into it, even if it wasn't fully ready.

I'd take a serious hit to what I could end up with but I have enough money set aside right now, I could still build something that I could live with, though at a level of barely above poverty. Poor isn't bad though.

It looks like what will take place is I'll be moving back to third shift (starting time 11pm until 6-9am) the first week of June. That will let me continue to draw a paycheck and have paid insurance while having 3-4 hours in the cool morning to work at building the retirement home and future micro farm.

I'll get back to posting blog posts next Wednesday, with more detailed and original content. Garden pics too. I have three flats of carrot seedlings to plant this weekend, though the cat jumped up on the shelf under the grow lamp and squashed about a dozen seedlings yesterday.

Remember too, if there is a particular area of interest you have, ASK.

I have this grand plan in the back of my mind of the library of skills and tutorials I want to have here eventually, and they will be quite broad and extensive. BUT I don't want to focus on just one or two if people are not interested in them. I'll take the slow incremental approach and do a little in each area to build them all up.

Might not be the best way to do it, but to me its the most fair.