Friday 20 November 2009

too much information

Have just gone 36 hours without broadband - the rural equivalent of being stranded at sea in a rowing boat and forced to eat your fellow passengers.
No email; no blogging; no twitter feed; no online news; no online banking; no sneaky Christmas shopping.
My initial reaction was hyperventilation, shouting at call centres, and being firmly on Liz Truss's side in the Turnip Taliban vs Notting Hill Tories row (reliable rural broadband was her big idea for South West Norfollk, apparently)
But after a day of deprivation, I was noticeably calmer. Now I'm restored to the real world, it has made me think about what an information junkie I've become, and whether it's worth it.
As a fulltime political journalist, I woke up to the Today programme, read every national newspaper, ate lunch to The World at One, had my afternoon punctuated by the PM programme, read Hansard on the train home and usually rounded off with more evening news - with Sky on constantly in between.
I surfed the main political blogs and Twitter, and that's just the public sources of information: my job was winkling the unofficial stuff out of people too, so I was constantly reading, talking, analysing, putting together bits of political jigsaws, keeping up with books and ideas. My mind whirred: I couldn't sleep even when I was knackered.
But I was in the loop, at the heart of things, and I found it endlessly stimulating: I liked knowing stuff first, and knowing the stuff that didn't get printed too. The hardest thing about changing careers has been giving up that information addiction.
Basically, I like finding stuff out and I like spreading gossip. Of course, for my new working life I'll still need those two skills (well, not really skills: more bad habits). But not to the same degree. And I'll go mad if I try to keep track the way I used to.
It has to stop, but how? Giving up the Today programme would be like going without breakfast, and I do find PM a soothing backdrop to toddler teatime.
I can also justify Twitter because it helps me manage information as well as distracting me endlessly (if you're not on it, try it: you don't have to tweet if you don't want to, just follow people who are knowledgeable about stuff you like - they'll act as your filter on the world, posting about stuff that's likely to interest you. It's like bespoke news tailored to you, with random extras).
But I'm rationing myself to two newspapers a day max. And maybe an extra one on Sundays. If they've got a free DVD. And maybe the odd other one online.
And obviously I really want to read the ghastly Palin autobiography, and loads of other books, and I want the New Statesman and the Spectator and Private Eye and maybe the Economist and occasionally I like flicking the Washington Post, and and and...
Just as well the broadband's unreliable, really.


  1. I spent almost 7 years working in a job that required me to be 'on' all the time. Because I was younger than my colleagues, and in possession of ovaries, I felt I had to continually prove myself. I loved it though - loved being at the heart of things.

    Eventually I chose to go home. Back to quiet idyllic familiar New Zealand. I thirded my salary and though was a national head of one of the largest private companies, had less than half the team, budget and responsibility of my London job. I did however finish most days before 6pm, I had a harbour view. I had a life.

    After 18 months of it, I was rested and hungry for something more. And so I have brought the life I found at home (in the form of my partner) back to London.

    I love being back in my adopted home, and I am back in the crazy mad job world. But that 18 months back home gave me perspective.

    I am all the better for it.

  2. OMG, steady on! That is still a massive amount of information you are absorbing each day. I suggest an escapist novel, a comfy chair and a good dose of silence (assuming toddler asleep). I know that would probably be complete cold turkey for you but it is the thing that keeps me sane through the crazy times when silence is unobtainable.

  3. Hi Gaby,

    I know you will miss being in the "thick of it". It takes time to get used to a slower pace of life.

    Enjoy this time of reflection. You never know what is around the corner. The gift of unhurried time spent with the children is something we've found to be irreplaceable as a source of joy and inspiration for all of us as a family.

    I love to read the NYTimes online in the morning with a hot cup of coffee after I take the kids to school. For the first time in my life, I am actually in charge of part of my day's schedule and I have time to reflect, choose what I spend my time on in an unhurried fashion. For the first time in my adult life I have time to be unstructured and free.

    I know I'll ramp up again (as I am sure you will as well) but for now, I am cherishing the freedom of my home life. Letting go of the hustle and bustle takes a bit of time so be patient with yourself.

  4. I feel physically dis-orientated if I disconnect. Not healthy.

  5. so let me into your secret: how do you look after your toddler and read two papers? i struggle to manage even one on the days that i'm off, and i should read them all.