Evolution and overload in an age of connectedness

In 2013 I stepped out of full time, permanent work to begin a “Portfolio Career”.  While there were many motivations for this, one was that I was yearning for the variety and opportunity to follow my own interests that this seemed to offer.

While the interests themselves have taken new directions over the years, the desire for breadth has continued and one way that this is evident is that I attend what on the surface seem like a disparate range of events with the sole common thread being that I think they sound stimulating.  However, I believe differently and am constantly fascinated by the connections between apparently different subjects and the way that once a certain concept has come on to my radar, I will see related items everywhere.

One example was on Tuesday afternoon and evening, starting with a primary school visit in connection with a charity trustee role I hold, followed by an event “In Conversation with Julia Hobsbawm”.  I wrapped up the evening watching BBC Horizon “Rory Bremner: ADHD and me”.

The connection between the first and last of these as fairly clear as the visit related to a new tool being tested that develops children’s ability to focus, although the fact that these were on the same day was a coincidence.

However, the links between the talk and the programme was rather more unexpected.  Hobsbawm’s presentation was based on the concept that living in a networked age where we are surrounded by information and connections, is beginning to cause significant anxiety and a “timesuck” which is bad for social health.

Consequently, when the Horizon focus shifted to Salif Mahamane from Utah State University and his studies into how modern environments are particularly challenging to people with ADHD, I was expecting him to refer to the constant stimulation and distractions that we are exposed to.  It was a surprise that the case he presented was around the mundanity and repetitive nature of many of our everyday lives and the fact that so much time is spent indoors.

While to a degree I believe the latter to be the case, I still feel that the levels of distraction that we are exposed to, even for those without diagnosed concentration difficulty are more damaging to focus than the need to complete repetitive tasks (and aren’t they going to be taken over by robots soon anyway)?

More fascinating was Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Williams’ argument around the evolutionary case for ADHD.  He believes that “ We need to have people like this around” as they “[do] dangerous things and then all of society learns from the cost of these errors”.  On the other hand, in a homogenous community, there are no examples to take heed from and all may then fall into the same traps to the detriment of the whole group.

While the context was different, this argument bore a striking resemblance to Julia Hobsbawm’s argument for the dangers of “group think” and the idea that if we are too networked we don’t come up with new ideas.

I had attended her talk as I have a strong interest in creating connections, learning together and building networks as this blog hopes to portray.   However, much of what she said about the discomfiting effects of information overload certainly hit home and caused me to question and begin to clarify my thinking on the matter.

As demonstrated by the unexpected connections I discovered last Tuesday, my interest is far from reinforcing existing connections for the sake of consistency but rather in bringing together a diverse range of views and creating new and productive connections. So while I recognise the need to rationalise the information I access, I will still continue to look for opportunities to expand my range of connections and seek to help others do the same.

Image from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/p-291098/?no_redirect


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