We are drowning in information. Levitin illustrates this with a biological example (15). Google Scholar reports 30,000 research articles on the nervous system of a squid. You can have a PhD in biology and never know all that’s been written on the topic!
This superabundance of accessible information has left us confused. We waste our time away making meaningless decisions that would not have been a matter of choice a few decades ago. This plethora of information can leave us overwhelmed. We have this vague sense that we can’t quite keep on top of everything we should know.
Daniel Levitin draws on scientific research studies as well as time management gurus to help us understand the problem. More than that, he offers practical ways for us to (as the subtitle says), think “straight in an age of information overload.”
One of the most interesting parts of Levitin’s book was his attack on the myth of multi-tasking. While we think we can do many things at once, “what we really do is shift our attention rapidly from task to task” (306). This leads to two problems:
- We don’t devote enough attention to any one task.
- We decrease the quality of our attention to a task.
Levitin is aware that self-professed multitaskers will disagree with this research. In one of the best scientific jargon-laden insults I’ve read, “a cognitive illusion sets in, fueled in part by a dopamine-adrenaline feedback loop, in which multitaskers think they are doing great” (306). Uni-taskers unite!
Multitasking is just a small part of this 500 page book (400+notes and index) in which every section had something interesting and enlightening to offer. If you want to understand more about how your mind works and how you can stay in control of the modern information torrent, Levitin is a great guide.
—Daniel J. Levitin, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (Toronto: Allen Lane, 2014).