Writers, the Internet, and Information Overload

Information Bias, or TMI (Too Much Information)

I wish I could say that the following screenshot of my own laptop is an anomaly, but it happens more often than it should:

Information Overload screenshotOur online world is a wealth of resources and information! Perhaps only those of us who remember being dependent on physical libraries (which I still love and frequent) truly appreciate what we can now find and read anywhere, anytime, and often all at once. I continue to be awed by the sheer volume of what is available, especially for writers. And the thing is, a lot of it is really good. This morning alone I was drawn in by Brain Pickings’ article on Hemingway’s advice to writers, Salon’s list of literary hashtags, and, tweets found using #amwriting.

My own writing—hidden away in the upper left corner of the screen—soon gets lost in the ever changing shuffle.

We can easily fool ourselves into thinking that all of this browsing and research and reading counts toward our writing, or that we need to gather more advice and information in order to write, something that psychologists call “information bias”:

INFORMATION BIAS: The tendency to seek information when it does not affect action. More information is not always better. (57 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up How We Think, emphasis added)

Overcoming Information Bias

Here’s how information bias messes with our heads: Instead of writing, we read about writing (yes, I’m aware of the irony), thinking that one more list of tips or one more inspirational quotation will make all the difference.

But in a world where this kind of information is nearly limitless, where and when do we stop? And don’t even get me started on digital hoarding.

The answer is simple yet not always easy: Just write. Do rather than think.

If you worry about missing out on all of those interesting articles and blog posts, it helps to have a way quickly to clip or bookmark links for later reading, during our not-writing time. Evernote works for many people, as does simply marking interesting tweets as favorites or using a “read later” app such as Pocket.

  • Do you ever experience information bias?
  • How do you manage the tsunami of information for writers?

4 thoughts on “Writers, the Internet, and Information Overload

  1. “Here’s how information bias messes with our heads: Instead of writing, we read about writing (yes, I’m aware of the irony), thinking that one more list of tips or one more inspirational quotation will make all the difference.”

    I really like this explanation of information bias, and it’s definitely not just writers! In my own trek with software development, I’ve found information bias (and I’m guessing I’m not the only novice to feel this) can be crippling to getting any creative work done. There’s something about the idea that we can follow the perfect path to being great that makes me want to read one more article or list of tips instead of getting my hands dirty in a project.

    My recent solution to this builds off the one you suggest for writers:

    Devote a number of hours in the day to working on some project, and work in 1.5hr chunks to reach this number. No information bias allowed at these times.

    It’s the only way things get done for me 🙂

    • Evan, I really like your 1.5 hour chunk solution and plan to try it! It’s kind of like scheduling class periods for yourself. 🙂 I hope you had a very good summer.

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