holding the fire hose

The amount and variety of information (and by extension distraction) that we’re expected to handle is astonishing.

Gone are the days where we waited 2 weeks to receive a letter in return. Where the newspaper was our (all of us) primary source of news. Where three channels decided what we all watched. Where our retail outlets were limited by our gas tanks.

Today, the Internet has pointed an unmitigated fire hose directly at us. We are bombarded by information from myriad different sources. Some days I feel like I spend 25% of my productive energy just deciding which ones to answer and in which order.

Young people are becoming Internet enabled at a younger and younger age which means they’re dealing with this fire hose as a younger age too. School doesn’t care about this new reality. It still lives in the world where the agenda was set by the textbook. Where there was one question (with one right answer) before moving onto the next one. Why aren’t we giving young people any guidance on how to handle the unending stream?

Here’s one way I’d help them practice holding the fire hose…

Print out this list and distribute one copy to everyone in the group.

Email from a friend you haven’t seen in a year.

Tweet from someone who you don’t know and isn’t very nice.

New comment on a Facebook selfie you posted last week.

Update on a few new Snapchat followers.

Handwritten note from your crush.

Text message from your mom about who’s picking you up after school.

Email from the teacher about the exam next month.

A take-home quiz handed out by the history teacher.

Facebook Messenger message from the girl you met at summer camp.

Snail mail from colleges interested in having you come visit.

A blank piece of paper waiting for your college essay.

Flier for financial aid given to you by the school college counselor.

WhatsApp message from a spammer looking to sell you design services.

Notifications that your favorite basketball team won.

Instagram notification that a new friend “liked” your last photo.

Ask each person to honestly rank the notifications in order they’ll be addressed.

What does their ranking say about their priorities? Which items lead to long term happiness? Which lead to short term pleasure? Why are some more important than others?

It’s not easy, that’s the point.

Bonus: Some tricks and tips to help them moving forward. Have them implement one or more and then reflect upon their experiment in a short piece of writing.

  1. Schedule the day in advance. When is “work time”? When is “social media time”? Challenge them to stick to their prescribed schedule for one day (it’s much harder than it sounds).
  2. Outline the ways in which social media has taken cues from casinos. How do they draw you in? What makes it so addicting? Does it lead to happiness?
  3. Suggest a two device rule (obviously not everyone can do this). One device for work, one for play.

holding the fire hose was originally published in It’s Your Turn on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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