Is Information Overload Making Us Depressed?

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Over on TIME Ideas, Dr. Andrew Weil is prescribing a diet of a different kind.

To improve your well-being, Weil suggests, cut down on your consumption of data. “The modern downpour of data is largely worthless distraction,” Weil writes, “and the sheer amount is drowning us.” He argues that the modern Information Age, this “revolution in information delivery,” offers little in the way of genuinely useful information — exposing us instead to a torrent of what Francis Heylighen, a cyberneticist at the Free University of Brussels, called “irrelevant, unclear, and simply erroneous data fragments” or “data smog” — and it’s seriously bringing us down.

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Nearly 17% of Americans will experience major depression in their lifetimes, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. Weil believes that data overload may be largely to blame. Data is slim, he says, but notes that a 2005 Swedish study found heavy use of communications technology — your smartphone, your iPad, your computer — to be associated with feelings of stress, sleep problems and symptoms of depression in young adults.

So, in a world of unlimited data plans, Weil suggests capping your flow. It’s not easy — there’s a reason the term “Crackberry” has appeared in our modern lexicon — but Weil, noting his own battle with depression, describes three “resolute actions” to wean yourself from the digital data pipe. These behaviors “freed me to pursue more restorative activities, especially spending time in natural settings. My mind is clearer, my attention span longer and my real (as opposed to virtual) friendships closer,” Weil writes.

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If that sounds appealing to you, check out Weil’s tips for reducing exposure to data smog on TIME Ideas.

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