Speaking of Too Much Information...

For reasons I cannot explain, I find a column from Bill Harvey, TRA's Vice Chairman and Chief Research Officer, in my inbox from time to time.  Since I have met Bill a few times over the years, I occasionally read it.

I confess it is usually heavy sledding, often revolving around his Acceleritis theory that we suffer from "a pandemic shock reaction to information overload" that makes clear thinking difficult, if not impossible. It also causes depression, fear, uncertainty and perhaps vaginal warts.

To support this theory, Bill estimates that the number of events impinging on consciousness in everyman’s and everywoman’s typical day -- measured by EEG P300 waves, the brain signature for noticing that some sensory information differs from expectation -- is now about 40,000 events. This of course includes an overload of advertisements and media consumption. A normal heart beats about 100,000 times a day, so figure that during waking hours you are getting a sensory event about every time your hearts goes thump.

On the side, Bill has written books about his way to manage all of this and improve your thinking (if not indeed your life). I am not depressed, fearful or uncertain enough to read his books, but I do wonder if in fact this bombardment of our senses is really all that hard to manage without guidance from Bill or anyone else. I figure that we all have developed a certain cosmic form of banner blindness that helps us cope with too much sensory information.  Otherwise how could we text, hang out on Facebook and watch TV all at the same time? I mean without going bonkers.

What my wife calls "ignoring her" I like to think of as a selective perception that allows me to remain focused on a third-and-long situation in a close game and not be distracted by how something looks on her or remembering if I fed the dog. Similarly, when I ask her what time it is and she starts telling me how to build a clock, I tune out, realizing that my question won't be answered for a good five to seven minutes.  If at all. In my little home office, I have a sign that says: "My Wife Says I Don't Listen To Her - Or Something Like That."  I tell her I learned it from a Bill Harvey book.

I find that conference calls are a great time to test your ability to multitask. There is something highly satisfying in contributing to a discussion on a client's changing strategic direction while watching porn on the desktop. FYI: very important you kill the PC speakers during the call. Calls where others drone on and on, monopolizing the conversation, are also an excellent time to pay bills. Before the advent of self-stick, you could have gotten caught with your tongue out licking a stamp, but no more.

That we have differing individual abilities to handle sensory overstimulation is most evident during dinner parties. While I find it takes all of my concentration to focus on an update from the woman next to me on the progress of her children through secondary school or college without wondering if LSU has scored since my last "excuse me" from the table, my wife, on the other hand, can leap in and out of multiple conversations occurring at the exact same moment. This has a profound effect on my inclination to say anything flirtatious to the woman sitting on the other side of me -- assuming that like the CIA in the movies, my wife has an antenna array that allows her to sort through the waterfall of other conversations and hear my mumbled indiscretion as if it was coming over the speaker system at Giants Stadium.

But thanks to Bill, when my kids look at me over dinner and complain, "Geez, Dad, you are in such a bad mood tonight," I can retort, "Do you have any idea how many sensory events I've had today!!!?"

That is, if I am even listening to them.



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