Are You an Infomaniac?

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My kids have probably heard me say this sentence hundreds of times: “I just need to check one more thing.”

I’m talking, of course, about the semi-compulsive (or, maybe if I’m being really honest, flat-out compulsive) urge to engage with information almost constantly. I just need to check one more thing, I frequently tell them when they need to me to do something for them.

Right. And then another. And another. And so on.

For me, it’s an urge that’s aided and abetted by my personality (I’m curious about the world and I like to learn) and my profession (I’m in the “knowledge work” business, which means it’s my job to know what’s going on out there). And it goes without saying that the advent of the smartphone—for me, for so many others—has only amplified all those tendencies.

Even before I began writing this blog, I capitulated to looking for just one more thing, which means I guess we should add procrastination to that list of contributing factors to my digital compulsivity.

The irony of all the searching we do online is that the search becomes an end in and of itself at times. It’s not that we really need any more information; it’s that our minds have grown so accustomed to the stimulation that comes from searching that, well, we just keep looking for stuff to engage with, never mind that we’re not really processing what we’re encountering very deeply.

Well, it turns out I’m not the only one grappling with this issue. Recently—during one of my many searches and sojourns online—I came across an article by Manoush Zomorodi in the Los Angeles Times titled “Hi, I’m a Digital Junkie, and I Suffer From Infomania.” I didn’t have to read past the headline to know what he was talking about. And as I skimmed, er, read the article, I related to him as a digital kindred spirit. Writes Zomorodi:

I was recently described, to my face, as a ‘modern digital junkie. This diagnosis was given to me, half in jest, by Dr. Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer psychologist at University College London, when I described my symptoms to him. After spending my workday tapping, swiping and emailing, I come home and—despite my exhaustion and twitching eyes—I want to consume more online. But I’m not even absorbing the articles, tweets and posts that I peruse. I’m just skipping from page to page, jumping from link to link. There’s another word for my problem. It’s infomania, defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘the compulsive desire to check or accumulate news and information, typically via mobile phone or computer.’ And I’m far from alone.

Indeed.

So what to do about it?

Zomorodi and Tsivrikos offer several concrete thoughts on corralling a runaway desire to keep consuming online content.

First, get enough sleep. That might sound like a surprising place to start. But there’s growing evidence that fatigue plays a big role in our ability to say no to the temptation to our omnipresent online opportunities. Zomorodi quotes professor Gloria Mark at UC Irvine’s Department of Informatics, who notes, “If you’re really tired, you’re not really mentally prepared to do heavy-duty work. You tend to do lightweight activities like Facebook. It’s easy. It doesn’t involve a lot of mental effort. And, of course, you have a shorter attention duration, which translates into more switching between different computer screens and different activities because you just don’t have the mental resources to be able to focus and concentrate.”

Next, we need to be more intentional when it comes to reflecting on what we’re consuming and why. “We need to put a higher value on taking the time to synthesize, interpret and reflect on the information we take in every day,” Zomorodi says. “We also need to ask ourselves: What’s the point of this insatiable hunger for information? When it comes down to it, what do we really want to get out of it?”

As we begin to do those things, Zomorodi says, we can let go of unrealistic and unhealthy compulsions to always be in the know, even giving ourselves the freedom to pass on stuff everyone else is buzzing about. “We need to reset our own and society’s expectations. It has to be OK to say, ‘I didn’t see it/read it/watch it.’ Otherwise, you’ll have spent life catching up on Netflix, reading a backlog of top-ten lists, or looking at GIFs from co-workers.”

I like what Zomorodi has to say about interacting intentionally with online content instead of doing so compulsively or addictively. Obviously, that strategy is only as effective as our will to confront bad habits and work to change them—as anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight, shed debt, keep a New Year’s resolution or offload any other detrimental habit knows all too well.

That said, I think what he’s offered here is a solid starting point for beginning to reckon with our online habits if they’ve begun to take on a life of their own.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've never understood this obsession with information. I'm 33, I don't have a facebook page, I don't even know what twitter looks like, and I don't feel the need to stare at my phone for hours at a time. But I see the world around me completely obsessed with this stuff. I agree it's a disease, but it's also one the carriers seem to have infected themselves with willingly. Society didn't create the iphone or social media, but society is the one that decided to build a lifestyle around them and then have nerve to wonder if there's a problem. It's very hard to be sympathetic to toward any of this.
Andrew Gilbertson More than 1 year ago
At least a few have the nerve to wonder if there's a problem; most spend their time flagrantly denying that there's anything unhealthy happening at all.

As for me (30), I have left my Facebook page (good for keeping up with friends after moving across the country, but too prone to political arguments and inflammatory posts now), also don't know what twitter looks like... and avoided a smart phone until last year, when the higher cost of getting a NON-smart phone made it sensible for my family to upgrade to them. I was resistant, fearing exactly this phenomenon, and I have to say... yeah, I struggle with being an infomaniac. I fought the trend, and I'm not claiming the technology pushed me to it- but once the temptation is there, it's hard to ignore. It wasn't a conscious choice, not an intentional one- if anything, it was a response to boredom on occasion that became habitual, then addictive.

I guess what I'm saying is... I came from a similar (probably a bit more internet-focused, from my teen years) background, mindset, and generation... but it got its hooks into me, too, and I'm stuck trying to fight it off. I don't blame anyone but myself... but it's more insidious than you may think, and it doesn't claim just the (consciously) willing. It can be surprising how convenience, entertainment, and learning can conspire to become a much more powerful pull than you expect them to be.

So, I have little sympathy for society's self-created plight, yes... but a little more sympathy for how difficult it can be for those that get swept up in it to fight it off.