Information Overload Anxiety

. . . And how to overcome it.

Our world is a poly-saturated, paper and internet-polluted society. A world in which those with the right information have power. A world where fortunes are made or lost, careers are secured or shot, health is enhanced or damaged by one factor–information. Indirectly, I built my business out of a love of cutting-edge information. I was enlightened of its importance by a Pillsbury client about 25 years ago. I had just recommended a book to an IT director and he responded with a strong rejection–and a comment: “We pay you to read for us.”

I thought it was a stupid comment. But I took it to the bank for big bucks.

This, however, is not the 1980s. Anyone with a slight excess of gray matter understands the necessity of reading, study and learning today–just to keep up and build a little career security. As a consequence, I’m regularly asked what I’m reading–and how I stay on top of stuff. Since I’m currently reworking my reading habits, now’s a good time to respond to that question. 

Over the past couple years I’ve been cutting back on my newspapers, journals and magazines. For a number of reasons. The overlap in some results in needless duplication. The over-bias to the left in The Nation and to the right in the Wall Street Journal always wastes my time filtering the bias. The far left needs a much more accurate and thoughtful understanding of Keynes to move them out of their craziness. I’m letting my subscription to the Nation run out. The Journal has taken Forbes motto, Capitalist Tool, to the level of insanity. Though its career articles can be good, I quit the Journal a couple years ago because of its incessantly, ridiculously conservative and hawkish orientation. I don’t think the defense industry needs WSJ’s support. These guys really need to revisit Edmund Burke to understand healthy conservativism. The Aussie owner, Rupert Murdoch, still thinks he’s in Australia and wouldn’t understand or recognize a responsibility to the U.S. community if it was in front of his nose. So long as he’s around. . . well, you get the drift.

Harper’s Magazine?
What also occasioned this blog was whether I should round out my reading with a subscription to Harper’s. LIke the business people I’ve gotten to know over the years, I still keep a tight schedule in coaching, research and writing. So adding a magazine is not something I act upon in willy-nilly fashion. I’d been looking over their website and doing some online comparisons between Harper’s and The Atlantic. Obviously, Harper’s is like Netflix. They know what I’m looking at. I received a 4-page ad for their magazine on Tuesday.

The ad was a marketing masterpiece. I actually read it in its entirety. The magazine clearly knows who it is and who its likely readers are. I thought the marketing description was about me. The mission? The search for meaning is what today’s HARPER’S magazine is all about. Our mission is not to add to the information explosion but to help you defend yourself against it …to rout the propaganda peddlers … to make sense of a nonsensical world.

They followed with a sampling of ideas from the “exclusive HARPER’S INDEX.” A partial list of the sampling incuded: 

    –Percentage of Americans in 1992 who believed gun laws should be stricter: 78%
    –Percentage who believe so today: 43%
    –Amount the debt ceiling standoff cost the federal government in 2011: $1,300,000,000
    –Number of college graduates currently working as astonomers, physicicsts, chemists, mathematicians, or web developers: 216,000
    –As waiters and bartenders: 216,000
    –Chance that an American between the ages of 18 and 34 thinks Facebook is “likely to fade away”: 1 in 2
    –Average number of times each week U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong patient or body part: 40

Alone, these are random facts. Together, they provide a fascinating, kaleidoscopic view of our paradoxical world.

The advertising was a coup d’etat. I ordered a one-year trial subscription.

Erwin’s reading
As my blog title indicates, I’m trying to deal with information overload and make the most out of my reading. Here’s my current reading paradigm, with rationale.

    New York Times (daily): I don’t really think it is possible to be a fully intelligent person in today’s world without the Times. And no. It’s not a liberal newspaper. It’s an urban newspaper with the best newsies in the English-speaking world. Most thoughtful conservatives read it. It’s not just the extensive updating of national and international news, the onsite reporting and the careful sometimes colorful writing. It’s the constantly varying perspectives, the quality of evidence and reasoning, the careful inferential thinking and the solid conclusions drawn. The quality of reportage is unequaled worldwide. 

    Foreign Affairs (monthly): This is the premier monthly journal on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. No significant bias. Often presents opposing views of the most important global subjects from a unique and challenging perspective. Writers are well-known academics and public figures. Wouldn’t be without it.

    The Economist (weekly): Easily the most articulate global magazine on the world economy. Biased to business–but not incessantly or inevitably. Quick to surface corruption. Understands community responsibility–especially in contrast to WSJ. Fascinating stuff in nearly every issue. Politics, economics, business, technology, books, arts, and even important obituaries. I expected their full page on Mandela, but not one on Philip Seymour Hoffman. Cool! 

    The Atlantic (monthly): Premier monthly listing to the side of the literary with original journalism and using its own writers.

    Harper’s (monthly): Lists to the political, but shares much in common with The Atlantic. Both Harper’s and the Atlantic are more than 150 years old.

    Time (weekly): The least important in my list. But I can read it in 10 minutes and there are a few journalists and commenters I enjoy such as Fareed Zakaria, Rana Foroohar–and Joel Stein for fun.

    New Yorker (weekly): The most articulately written magazine in the English-speaking world. Brilliant writing and brilliant content that includes reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry. The covers alone are sometimes worth framing. It does extensive pieces of investigative journalism and is also quite capable of disagreeing with itself. For example, there were two reviews of The Newsroom in 2011: Critique by Emily Nussbaum and defense by David Denby. Anthony Lane’s celebration of the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman was an absolute masterpiece. My protege, who has read the New Yorker since college graduation, was on the phone about the piece before I’d finished it. The only place you can find that much human insight is possibly (just possibly) the New York Times. This long paragraph is reflective of my delight in the magazine. You might find it interesting to know that when Warren Bennis wrote an article on this same subject, he called it his “guide to dismantling your (book) guilt shelf–without actually canceling your subscription to the New Yorker.”

Inevitably, I also have from three to a dozen or so non-fiction books going on matters related to my career interests and writing. My books are filled with my notes and the front pages list major issues with page numbers. I rarely loan books out. If they don’t come back, I’ll need some of that info on the front pages and go nuts looking for it. I read little fiction any more other than cheap novels of espionage and mystery while on vacation. Essentially escapist material.

With the ubiquitous hand-helds, the internet, blaring video and talk radio, the public seems to be learning more and more about things of less and less importance. The above diet can rescue you. So there you go. 

Photo by flickr: Ahmad Katari


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