Fighting Infobesity – 17 Ideas for Slimming Down, Part 1

When I graduated from college nine years ago, I didn’t even have a cell phone.   iPads were just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye, having a hotmail email address was acceptable, and we still used the term “answering machine.”

The glut of devices, social media sites, and other bright and shiny distractions today comes with some challenges.  It’s not the technology. Any two year old can navigate an iPad. It’s the implication of having constant access to a fire hose of information at a moment’s notice. The love of learning that served me so well in my youth has become a bit of a liability.  I can look up anything I want to know in an instant.  That’s not to say that wisdom or even worthwhile knowledge can be gained in an instant. They can’t. But the information is so tantalizingly quick to access that I fall prey to the temptation to google-solve my problems just the same.

The information is often pre-chewed as well. Much like a fast food burger is engineered to slide down my throat without the inconvenience of utensils or undue mastication, someone else’s answer to any question under the sun is available as a tasty, 140 words-or-less morsel.

I have four young children growing up with an all-you-care-to-consume buffet of people’s opinions presented as fact.

They will never know the freedom of buying a toaster without the nagging suspicion that if they had only spent an hour wading through reviews of various models they’d have ended up with a superior product.

T.S. Eliot wrote the following 80 years ago and it’s sobering to read today:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence….

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

More so than at any other time in history, children today will need to know how to evaluate information for accuracy.  They will need to consider what knowledge is worth acquiring. They will need to apply wisdom to the use of technology.  They will need to decide if a life well lived involves having Candy Crush in their pocket.

Who am I kidding? I need to learn those same things and make those same decisions for myself!

I concur with wise Aunt Abigail who declared in the book Understood Betsy, published 100 years ago:

“I declare! Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new piece of machinery comes into the door some of our wits fly out at the window!”

Yet, I adore using the internet to show my children sights I’ve never seen myself, to glean practical tips from those in the trenches of homemaking and homeschooling, and to accomplish many things (banking, etc.) more efficiently. How can I sample the best parts without overdoing it?

The Internet Can Make Us Fat… Kind Of

Obesity is a clear and alarming epidemic in our culture. Restaurants, television, flyers, and radio all push the idea that more is always better. Bigger servings. More indulgences. We’re told that we will find satiety not in quality, but in the sheer quantity of what we consume.  With our culture of dietary indulgence, our waistlines are large and our palates have lost refinement, numbed by years of fast food.  Unfortunately, our minds are deteriorating in a similar way.  The constant influx of information is dulling our ability to think clearly and independently and grapple with significant information. We live in a culture of infobesity.

A person who wants to stay lean may avoid a buffet entirely, or he may employ practices to help him eat in the moment what he will wish he’d have eaten later on. In other words, he’ll make short-term decisions with the long-term outcome in mind. donut-iphone

Here are 17 ideas I have used to stay lean in a culture of infobesity:

1. Only be where you want to go.

I have a Facebook account, but I’m not on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or any of the others. Facebook isn’t inherently more valuable, and I fully acknowledge that those other places online have appeal and could give me great ideas and connections with people.  But I’m not lacking great ideas nor connections with people.  In fact, if I’m being honest, I don’t give as much care and priority to the ideas and relationships I already have (#15) as I’d like to.  I’m sure if I had accounts at more social media sites, I’d feel a pull to check them, which would then pull me away from something I value more.

Some is enough.

Dietary corollary: Don’t feel like you have to try everything on the table at the potluck. Choose your favorite few and accept that someone else’s plate might look equally appetizing. 

2. Make a smart phone dumb(er).

I don’t have a data plan on my phone, and haven’t had for several years.  This has had many consequences, some unintended.  I still have access to wifi at home, at the library, at church, at the doctor’s office, etc.  but the temptation to check my email while at the park with my kids has evaporated.

When a question I don’t immediately know the answer to comes up, I just wonder about it instead of instantly gratifying my mild curiosity. (And maybe add it to The Wonder List, #4.)

I prepare better before I leave the house (and Google Maps) behind, which has resulted in my getting lost less often.  Knowing I don’t have the safety internet has made me more resourceful. I reach out to strangers to ask for help or directions more frequently, and I’m more open to serendipity because I’m fully present in my surroundings.

Plus, I pay just $4 a month for my cell phone.  That’s pretty nice.

Dietary corollary: Eat at mealtimes. Quit the mindless snacking. 

3. Use a {dumb} watch.

I’ve found that pulling out a multi-function device to check the time is tempting fate and often leads to checking email or social media or, if you haven’t applied idea #5, playing a game.
I also have a CD player and a plain kitchen timer for similar reasons. My kids can listen to an audiobook without being tempted to tap over to something else and I can keep dinner from burning while I’m out sitting on the deck… without the phone.

Dietary corollary: Don’t store your vegetables and chips in the same place. Otherwise, you may intend to snack on carrots and end up with Dorito fingers.

4. Make a Look-Up Later List (AKA a Wonder List).

Instead of whipping out my device anytime I have a question or my kids have a question, often I simply jot it down or just sit with the question a bit. Is it a good question? Does the answer matter? Is it something worth the time and distraction it takes to look up?

After a week or so, I often have a list of several things. Most are no longer interesting or relevant and since I’ve put this into practice, it no longer surprises me that I survived without an instant answer.  A few things are still worth looking into and I’ve found that usually in the interim my mind has been turning over the question, germinating better questions and some possible answers. The information I find online then falls on fertile ground.  Seeking knowledge through instant gratification is like throwing seeds to the wind and hoping for a good harvest.

Dietary corollary: Hunger is the best sauce. 

On to Part 2…


About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Life as we know it, Parenting & Household Hacks. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fighting Infobesity – 17 Ideas for Slimming Down, Part 1

  1. baughman says:

    Anne is blogging like it’s 1999! I love it. Thanks for the fun post.
    BTW, you can download google maps to work offline:


  2. Anita Fairbanks says:

    You’ve got so many great tricks 🙂 Love the analogies, by the way. In part 2, do you address when you accomplish internet tasks, with your kids around? How do you handle their leisure time on the computer? How will you handle it when they’re teens?


  3. Pingback: Fighting Infobesity: 17 Ideas for Slimming Down, Part 2 | Adventures in Beanland

  4. Pingback: Fighting Infobesity: 17 Ideas for Slimming Down Part 3 | Adventures in Beanland

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s