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A Tech Journalist On How To Keep Information Overload From Distracting You

Is technology helping or hurting the modern parent? Better question: What the hell are you supposed to do when you have a tiny device that sings a digital siren song (it sounds like marimba!)? Information overload is a big problem for people with kids. It’s the reason you feel compelled to keep scrolling through Facebook, despite the fact your son is busy eating … sand? Is that sand? Why are you eating sand?

Manoush Zomorodi, a mother of 2 and host of the WNYC technology podcast Note to Self, conducted a survey of her audience about this phenomenon and found, “Eighty percent said they feel like their brain is full, but they feel a compulsion to keep going.” That result is the inspiration for Infomagical, a digital literacy campaign that will hopefully help parents (and everyone else) leverage the information deluge their phones and computers create in ways that are more productive and less distracting.

“There are so many delightful things that the Internet and technology bring us. For me, I’m a glutton, and I want it all. But I need to know when it’s helping me and when it’s not helping me.” How do stop your “infomania” from interfering with your family? “It’s about being purposeful,” says Zomorodi.


Flickr / Matt Janicki

First Problem, There’s #NoFilter
If social media streams had better filters, then maybe when you go to do something useful online you wouldn’t wind up spending 20 minutes watching Donald Trump’s crazy child dancers. “Clay Shirky said 7 years ago that we have filter failure,” says Zomorodi. “Here it is 7 years later and it’s not really any better. The business model wants us to keep swiping and tapping, and if we’re not going to do it for ourselves, then we’re kind of screwed.” Swipe right to that!

There’s An App For That
Why rely on willpower when there are apps to keep you from neglecting your kids because you’re too focused on apps? “Right now you have to be incredibly proactive to not be online. We’re at this phase where we’re like, ‘Hooray! Everything is amazing!’ Only now are people thinking, ‘Oh wait, we have to put parameters on this,'” says Zomorodi.

It sounds paradoxical, but an app might actually help you break the addiction. Here are two that Manoush recommends:

  • Freedom – Block apps and sites that you find distracting. Just don’t block Freedom. Then the universe as we know it would cease to exist.
  • DND – Do Not Disturb is already on your phone and your Mac. Hate notifications in the middle of the night? Use it.

And for more ways of getting your analog head straight:

  • Headspace: A meditation and mindfulness app. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that growth of technology tracks alongside the growth of the mindfulness / yoga industry,” says Zomorodi.
  • Focus – Another app that will shut down the Facebook tab you can’t shut down yourself
  • Time Out – Simple reminder that will tell you to take breaks from your phone. Good timing too, because you’re about to push your stroller into traffic.

Flickr / Ed and Eddie

Less Streaming, More Vinyl
“When I was 5 I used to sit in the kitchen and DJ my life while eating a snack. Technology is wonderful and music is amazing. It’s important to combine the old good stuff with the new good stuff and find the balance in it all,” says Zomorodi.

Speaking of old good stuff, she recently hooked her family up with this kit record player. “I know vinyl is hot with hipsters, but for me it was about putting the control back into my kids hands and bringing music back into our lives. Kids don’t have autonomy like they used to with music. When they’re given a phone or an iPad, a solitary thing happens. Now there’s lot of dancing going on in my house.”

Be Transparent With Your Kids
“It must be very odd for my children to be sitting there engaging with me and suddenly I look at this piece of equipment and go away. I’ll tell my kids I’m answering a work email, and talking out what I’m doing so they start to understand that I’m not just being sucked away from them to this netherland,” says Zomorodi. “We ask transparency of tech companies, I think that kids should be asking it of their parents, too.”

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Your FOMO Is Showing
Fear of missing out, or FOMO, isn’t just for your teen daughter who is still upset Zayn left One Direction (or so you’ve heard). It happens to parents, too. Too many Instagrams of perfectly coiffed parents having brunch with their also perfectly coiffed toddler? How the hell did they do that? You want that!

“We had the 2 people who popularized the acronyms FOMO and JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) in discussion, and talked about the importance of naming something,” says Zomorodi, of her podcast guests. “Like the Eskimos have a ton of words for snow, now we have all these words for new sensations that come up because of technology, and we have to name them so we can start talking about it. Once you name it you know that you’re not the only one. You start to feel empowered.” You have Toddler Brunch FOMO. It feels good to talk, right?

What’s The Goal Of Your Tech?
“Before you read something or use something with your family, ask yourself, ‘What’s the goal, here?’,” says Zomorodi.

There are plenty of reasons to embrace the technology that surrounds you every day. Family movie night? Good! Family movie night where everyone is watching another movie on their iPads? Bad! Reading an article on sleep training because you’re curious? Good! Reading that article because you were tagged on Facebook by a friend who thinks you’re doing it wrong? Bad!

“It’s estimated we retain and synthesize 40-50 percent of the information we take in every day. What’s the point of taking in the 50-percent that we’re wasting our neural resources on, when we could be using it to accomplish something? If you make the little things better, they can have a really big effect. I struggle with this every day, but I consider myself lucky. I can ask my audience if they have this problem too, and we can figure it out together.”