Feeling overwhelmed by data


The wealth of information at our fingertips has its uses, but too much data and opinion can make us lose focus on what matters, says Michael Pettavel

Michael Pettavel
Michael Pettavel

With the rise of information access, we can revel in the benefits of the myriad of research (and opinions) of others, but it can also feel that there is simply too much information to take in. I do use the web to research, but often get distracted from my original line of enquiry.

I am not a great lover of social media – I find myself deleting emails from the range of platforms that kindly suggest topics I may be interested in, and I don’t have a Facebook account as it seems to raise more issues than solutions.

It isn’t because I’m not interested; in fact I often agree with what is being said (as you can choose what you follow and we follow what we tend to agree with), but I find myself overloaded with information and as a result struggle to filter what others are doing or saying without a feeling of inadequacy. Should we be following that? Do we have enough protein in our meals? Are we recycling enough?

I have similar feelings about attending Ofsted briefings – they usually make me panic as they bring into sharp focus everything that I am not doing – especially as now there is so much to do. Without resorting to a lie down in a darkened room, perhaps we need to pay attention to what we are doing (and often doing well), rather than what others are doing. Trying to see things from our own starting points.

The simplicity of the past was not always so bad. The key texts (and pedagogues) resulted in discussions with everyone on the same page – a bit like everyone seeing a TV programme at the same time rather than us all watching different things at different times. This more limited range led to deeper discussions as the starting points were shared. Dialogue formed an important part of the understanding of common values. I find myself becoming desensitised to new ideas and disenfranchised with the reliance on data from the myriad of research projects, even when I agree with the conclusions. Our desperate need to ‘prove our point’ by providing graphs and charts seems to undermine the uniqueness of our own individual (and group) circumstances.

I don’t want to be anti-progressive, but too much choice (as with news, or shoes or meals) sometimes undermines the very goal it seeks to achieve. The search for the ‘newest’ idea results in the speed of travel overwhelming the importance of the journey itself. This is especially true in situations where we are all busy and the importance of getting the basics right cannot be overlooked. Then again, I may just be getting old…

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