We live in a very crowded world. And the crowd is just getting bigger. This, combined with the fantastic technological advance of our times, generated an unbelievably big pool of information. Our sensors are filled with data each and every second, from more and more sources.
10 years ago we didn’t have Twitter or Facebook. Yet, today, we dedicate hours from our day time to these services. 10 years ago we didn’t have smartphones. And yet, today we’re answering to dozens of notifications on our tiny devices, dozens of times a day. There’s a huge abundance of available information.
And with this abundance of information, chaos came as well.
Separating noise from signal, or, in other words, keeping a healthy noise to signal ratio, became a daunting task.
How much do we really need from all of this? How much of what we read on Facebook is really useful and how much is garbage? Where to draw the line between noise and signal?
I confess I had my fair share of fighting with this. Just because I love to enforce a bit of self-discipline that doesn’t mean I’m not wandering every once in a while on Facebook, or I’m not losing myself for hours on YouTube, while doing some “research”.
It’s just the way it is.
So, after surprising myself in the swamps of the digital forests way too many times, I decided it’s time to tackle the problem upfront.
What follows is my own method of separating noise from signal.
From Where It Comes?
If you want to dodge bullets, it will really help to know first where the gun is, right? In other words, what are the sources of information that are prone to creating a challenging noise to signal ratio?
It’s obvious that the first source will be the internet. Email, web pages, blog posts, tweets, walls, pins, instagrams, periscopes, snap chats, you name it. The internet has them all. And it grows at an incredible pace. Each and every second.
So, that’s the first suspect, and, to be honest, my approach will be directed specifically at this gun, because it’s a gun I face a lot in my day to day activity.
But before going to the ins and outs, I want to tell something about human interaction. Because, you know, it’s not only social media which is overwhelming. Our day to day relationships are also prone to a challenging noise to signal ratio. There are people, or circumstances in our lives that are really dragging us down.
If you’re on the corporate side of the world, you may have heard so far the word “meeting”. Well, I find meetings extremely time consuming. Or, to be more precise, I find the corporate culture which enforces meetings in a rigid way to be a source of a lot of noise.
And that’s only one example.
Think of all the people with whom you spend time, but from which you don’t get much in return. As hard as it is to accept it, these people are just noise. But since dealing with people is much more delicate than dealing with rough information, I didn’t focus on it in this article. Feel free to take some ideas and apply them on your human interaction as well, if you think they are worth it.
And there is another source of noise to signal ratio, but we’re not gonna discuss it either: it’s our own distorted perception. It’s our very own mind, which, left unsupervised, will soon create a mad whirlwind of thoughts, most of them completely useless. That’s even tougher than human interaction. Because it’s an interaction with ourselves. And we really have no idea who we are.
For now, let’ stick with the digital gun. Let’s see how can we cope with the overwhelming avalanche of the internet and how to make the most of it.
What Is Meaningful Information And What Is Noise?
In order to understand this, you first have to decide why you’re exposing yourself to a specific type of interaction.
If it’s a person you’re interacting with, you need to have a specific intention. “I came to talk to you about this or that”. Or “I need a stapler”. Or “Let’s have a coffee”.
It goes like this with any type of information source, being it a blog, a website or a social network. If you came there, you need to have a certain intention set up.
It’s the intention that is actually shaping the interaction.
So, to put it shortly, a meaningful information would be an information aligned with our intention, whereas noise is an information which is not aligned with our intention.
How To Identify And Eliminate Noise
Start from the main context, form the intention: why am I here?
That’s fundamental. If you’re on Facebook for a research, or for promoting something, then that’s your intention. If a cat picture will show up on your feed, and you’re stopping to stare at it for more than 30 seconds, that’s noise. We’ll see below why.
So, in order to identify the noise, we first need to maintain the context, the initial intention.
The most common problem is that we may start with a good context, but we may lose it along the way. We really opened Facebook because we intended to do some research, but then, bam! The damn cat picture.
Meditation comes in handy here, because it trains your mind to fixate on a single object or state.
Noise Is What Feels Bad
That’s a very important distinction. Noise is not what we may consider in the moment as being “unimportant”. Noise is not something that’s different. It’s simply something that feels bad. Feels. And bad. Very important words.
You identify noise not in a rational way, but in an emotional way. Reason has it limits. Keeping an open mind and being ready for anything is much more useful than being reasonable all the time. And by keeping an emotionally open field, you allow stuff that wasn’t “planned” to creep in. In a good way.
Maybe you’re on Facebook for some research (I know, we’re already on Facebook for research, right). But let’s pretend you’re really on Facebook for some real research. And then the same cat picture pops up in your feed.
If it makes you feel ok, take a look at it. That’s not bad. What’s bad is attaching yourself to it for too long. Like when you stare at it for half a minute. Or like when you see a cat photo and then you continue scrolling “because you hope another funny cat photo will pop up”. Not because you have some research to do. That’s noise.
And with that we come to the “eliminate” part. So, how do you eliminate noise? Simply by assigning the “ignore” property.
Let me explain.
You keep browsing on Facebook and no cat photo appears. Good. But then an article about space exploration creeps in. That sounds interesting. You browse a little and feel compelled to read more.
Now, that’s the inflection point. If you open the article in a new tab, it will be the beginning of the end. Because you’re getting attached to it.
So, instead of reading it, add it to a “read later bucket”.
I know.You don’t know what a “read later bucket” is. Truth is that a “read later bucket” is a fundamental tool for keeping a correct noise to signal ratio.
Again, let me explain.
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