Infomagical Day Five: Create Change

After four days of Infomagical tasks and challenges, I’ve finally made it to the final day number five! The last four days have made a huge impact on my approach to my technology and the information I choose to consume on a daily basis. The whole experience caused me to reflect on my media use habits in a way that I had not done before. It made me realize that information overload affects me to a much greater extent than I had ever allowed myself to believe. I never thought there was such a thing as reading too many articles (the more the better, right?), but this week taught that reading too much, even if it’s stuff you find interesting and informative, can cause just as much information overload on our brains as scrolling mindlessly through Facebook. Because no matter how useful or meaningful the information is, if it’s distracting you from other tasks it’s multi-tasking! It is no more justifiable or productive than scrolling through infinite pages of memes when you’ve got a deadline coming up.

I am never going to be able to read every single article I bookmark, or keep up with all the articles my friends are constantly sharing (either publicly or directly with me). I so desperately wish I could, because there is just SO MUCH interesting information out there! And all it takes to access is the click of a button! But one click leads to another that leads to another, and before I know it two hours have gone by and I don’t even remember when or where it began. There came a point where started feeling like this, and knew that something had to change. I forced myself to take a step back from the barrage of stuff I consume every day and ask myself, have I become a prisoner of all this information? How much of it am I really going to remember, and how much of it is just another distraction from other, more meaningful tasks that I could be focusing on?

Of course even the most productive people I know are prone to multi-tasking and getting distracted. We all do it, and it’s ok! It’s ok to indulge in distractive activities, scroll through too many cat memes, or get trapped in the sticky web of information on the Internet. I do it too, and I know I’m not going to be able to erase those habits completely. But this week of challenges nonetheless provided me with valuable insight on my behaviour. So where has it left me? I have realized that I want to create more content and consume less. This includes creating off-line; getting away from technology to knit a hat, or get crafty in the kitchen. I no longer want a brightly lit screen to be the last thing I see in the evening and the first thing I look at in the morning. In essence, I want to transform my technology into tools that are useful instead of binding. And I plan on succeeding, so expect to hear more from me!

[Thank you for following along with me this week! The challenge may be over for me, but now it’s your turn to have a go! Take the challenge, reevaluate the roles that technology and information play in your life, and see where it takes you!]



Infomagical Day Four: Emotional Connection

After the previous challenge, and following the recent social media/Internet outburst post-election, I felt like I needed to take a break from media and technology altogether. That included this series of challenges, which means that I have not completed them all in consecutive order. But my brain felt overloaded and I needed to escape; I am now back to finish this series after a few days off, and today I made a Magical Connection. The guideline of today’s challenge? Engage in conversation with someone for at least seven minutes, about something you learned about recently that had an impact on you.

I had multiple conversations with people today; many of them centred around, of course, politics. Themes of discussion regarding the election are endless, and the Magical Connection I made today was regarding one topic related to the election that has been on a lot of people’s minds: how racist ideologies are coming to the forefront. What does this mean for non-white people in America? Is discriminatory behaviour fuelled by racism really gaining steam in North America, or is the media just playing it up? It seems uncertain, because there are a lot of different media opinions on the matter; but it’s definitely a huge topic of debate and discussion in light of Trump’s successful campaign, and people are undoubtedly being affected by it. Related to the topic of racism is an article that the Montreal Gazette published today called “The Trump effect and the normalization of hate in Quebec.” Read it here. It’s a heavy article, but I found it to be a very important read considering its relevance to me as a Canadian.

To form my Magical Connection, I asked my roommate if he had read this article, and what his thoughts were on racism in North America. I was taken aback by his response to my question, because it opened a floodgate of emotion that I had not been expecting. We ended up talking for at least an hour and, although we eventually diverged from the discussion on racism, the topic fuelled discussion on other personal and social issues that we had never talked about.

I am very grateful for today’s challenge and the deeper connection it allowed me to make. Let’s see what tomorrow, day number five and final challenge, will bring.

Infomagical Day Three: Holy Memes!

Today was day three of the Infomagical challenge-Magical Brain-and I undertook the task of trying to avoid all viral and trending topics in the media. Today was also the day Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. The sheer irony of this almost made me admit defeat before I even attempted to succeed in this challenge.

I did try, but I’ll admit that by the end of the day my success was akin to that of Hillary Clinton’s… How could I resist the temptation of all those viral memes and tweets? This monumental day in American history prompted responses from people all over the world, and the Internet was buzzing with political posts regarding it. My Facebook and other social media feeds had one trending topic and one only, and, even if I had avoided all media, it was all anyone talked about on campus and in class. Alas, I was not very successful in my task. I won’t even try to pose the argument that information regarding the American election is worthwhile to me (and that it was therefore relevant for me to consume). Because, though I do find it to be a vital topic to follow and stay informed on, I cannot pretend that it is a topic that I consider to be valuable with regards to my own information pursuits.

However, I did try to limit, and be selective of, the content I did consume regarding the election. The only article I read thoroughly was Tim Urban’s response to the outcome on WaitButWhy. I even avoided watching Trump’s acceptance speech or Clinton’s concession speech (although I did watch what President Obama had to say). Today made me realize the full extent to which we are all captives of information overload! I feel as though unless I were to drop my phone in the canal, establish a permanent residence in Ottawa’s Experimental Farm, and never again venture into the civilized world, media and the overload of information are omnipresent and inescapable aspects of our 21st century lives. All that being said, what are your thoughts on the election?

Infomagical Day Two: Clean Slate

Today was day two of the Infomagical challenge, and the task was to clean up and reorganize my phone and/or computer. Which apps were just taking up space on my phone, providing an extra excuse to multi-task? Which bookmarks did I no longer need on my laptop browser, and which folders or files could I clear from my desktop? These were the tasks I had on my plate today.

Yesterday’s (mostly successful) attempt to single task for an entire day made me realize that, even though single tasking brings on anxiety and restlessness, multi-tasking is still way more overwhelming, utterly unnecessary and, most of all, counter-productive. But my phone is already pretty devoid of any apps that don’t come pre-installed courtesy of Apple (because the pre-installed apps take up most of the space on my 8GB phone—thanks Apple), so I tackled one of the main perpetrators of distraction: the Facebook app. I deleted it off my phone, and an audible sigh of relief escaped my lips. But I didn’t stop there: I also backed up and then deleted all of my photos and categorized my remaining applications, assigning each app to one of three designated folders.

The other object I tackled today was my laptop. I suffer from the weird aversion to closing tabs on my browser (I know there are others of you out there who are guilty of this too!), meaning I always have a distressing number of tabs open (many of which I haven’t touched in days). So I created folders within my bookmarks tab, deleted the bookmarks I will never ever look at, and made a promise to myself to close Google Chrome every single day (thus closing all tabs and starting each day anew). I subjected my desktop to the same treatment, deleting all the files that are just clutter obscuring my beautiful desktop photo, and assigning specific folders to everything that remained.

After today’s challenge I feel magically refreshed, as if de-cluttering my technology has also freed up space in my brain for the thoughts and work that I want to or should be focusing on. I like opening up my phone and looking at a photo that isn’t obscured by applications. I ended the day by closing every application on my laptop, leaving just my desktop wallpaper sitting on the screen: one of my favourite photos from my travels through Nepal. It was nice to end the day with a clean slate, falling asleep to wonderful memories of distant places.

Infomagical Day One: Twitchy Fingers

Today marks day one of the Infomagical challenge! Today’s podcast was called Magical Day. The goal? Stop multi-tasking, start single tasking. Put away the phone while you’re working on an assignment, don’t watch Netflix while you cook or eat, don’t check your phone when you’re out with friends… Concentrate on one given task at a time and one only!

So what did I learn after completing day one of the five-day challenge? I have realized that I have a curse: the curse of the twitchy fingers! I made a very conscious effort all day not to check my phone AT ALL on the bus, or to open up a new tab and check Facebook while concentrating on an assignment, or to respond to people’s messages at any given time (instead, I dedicated slots of time throughout my day to go on social media and respond then). However, this caused me to become hyper-aware of how badly my fingers itched to do all these things I was trying to avoid. I realized how much of a fishhook my phone is, constantly trying to reel my fingers in to touch the screen and check my notifications. By the end of the day I was imagining that my phone was buzzing with incoming messages that demanded my attention, even though checking my phone proved otherwise—my mind was just imagining things because it so desperately wanted a distraction from the gruelling monotony of single tasking.

I’ll tell you one thing: single tasking is infinitely easier said than done. By the end of day one the voice in my head telling me to switch tasks was so overwhelming, and my fingers so twitchy, that I decided to turn the cellular data off on my phone for the remainder of the week. At least this way, unless I am in a space with Wi-Fi, I will interact with the environment around me instead of the one on my phone. As for my laptop, I am keep the Wi-Fi turned off while working on assignments (unless required), because I clearly don’t have the self-discipline I thought I did to police my own behaviour.

The Infomagical Challenge: What It’s All About

I don’t think most of us realize how saturated with media and information our lives have become, until we try to avoid them. It’s not something we tend to actively think about or reflect on, but rather something we take for granted. The media has become so pervasive in our lives—and information so accessible—that we rarely pause to question it, when really we should be asking: are we getting too much? How much of the information that we consume every day are we actually processing, internalizing, and putting to good use? How much of it is simply overwhelming our brains? New media technologies have changed the way we communicate, learn, and stay informed. And they can be very useful and beneficial, as long as we remain in control of how we use this changing media/tech landscape to our advantage (instead of becoming passive and consuming users).

Speaking for myself, I can say that I have certainly come to feel overwhelmed and trapped by my use and consumption of media technologies. The challenge for me is using media effectively and productively when I AM using it, instead of allowing myself to get constantly and hopelessly distracted. I have no problem periodically detaching from my technology to give myself a break; I can disconnect and leave my phone at home without getting FOMO (fear of missing out). But when I am trying to use my laptop for schoolwork, I get distracted with the Internet every few minutes. When I am on public transit, my phone becomes a crutch against boredom—I check it constantly if I have it on me.

This week I will challenge and attempt to change my relationship with my technology and consumption of media. I will do this through a series of podcasts called “Infomagical,” presented by Note To Self; a WNYC podcast. Each day I will listen to one assigned podcast (there are five in total) that will set a challenge for the day (five challenges in total). The tasks are designed to help me observe and control my use of technology and consumption of information throughout the day. I will reflect on my experience of each challenge at the end of each day. Maybe by the end of the week I will have something to take away from the experience and apply to my future use of and relationship with the media and information technologies that are such a big part of my life. Come along for the ride! The first challenge begins tomorrow: Magical Day.