How To Cope With Knowledge Explosion

Strategies For Avoiding Feeling Overwhelmed

Fahri Karakas
Jan 24 · 7 min read
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Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Life is accelerated and overwhelming, we all get it:

  • I receive more than 200 emails every day, which need to be sorted.
  • I have hours of meetings every day, and I need to grade nearly a hundred projects.
  • I have hundreds of books and Medium articles still waiting for me to be read.
  • I have more than 80 tabs open on my Chrome browser.
  • I would like to catch up on 200+ novel films, videos, and series on Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and YouTube (not counting the Turkish dramas and platforms).
  • I have much more online seminars, training programs, workshops, talks, and lectures than I can keep up with.
  • I have calendar alerts and meeting reminders almost all the time.

Do you feel the same way? Well, let me give you the bad news: We will witness even more acceleration and overload of knowledge in the next couple of years.

We witnessed a decade of events in one year in 2020

2020 was a monumental year during which we experienced a decade of transformations. There is no reason to believe why 2021 or 2022 will be different. Let’s remember what happened in 2020:

  • The pandemic, global lockdowns, global economic depression, the great reset, and remote work transformed the world as we know it.
  • We experienced enormous political shifts, chaos/turbulence, and powerful movements including #MeToo, #TimeIsUp, #BlackLivesMatter, and #NoBanNoWall.
  • We witnessed the dawn of the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Self-driving cars have hit the roads. DeepMind’s AI made a gigantic leap in determining the 3D shapes of protein structures, which is set to transform biology as we know it.
  • GPT-3 and DALL-E have been created by OpenAI. GPT-3 will transform many white-collar jobs and DALL-E represents the dawn of multimodal AI that can interpret, synthesize, and translate between language and imagery.

We are experiencing a knowledge tsunami

The volume of data/information created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide increased from 41 zettabytes in 2019 to 59 zettabytes in 2020. This figure is expected to rise to 74 zettabytes in 2021, 94 zettabytes in 2022, 118 zettabytes in 2023, and 149 zettabytes in 2024. Such knowledge explosion has never occurred until now in the history of human civilization.

This exponential trend will continue, which means an ever-increasing pace of knowledge explosion, technological acceleration, and breakthrough innovation. In short, we are currently experiencing one of the biggest revolutions humanity has ever seen: It is a knowledge tsunami.

Some futurists are claiming human knowledge is doubling every 12 hours right now (which is a dubious claim, but hard to falsify). According to these experts, the doubling rate used to be 25 years in 1945, and 12 months in 1982.

There is such an explosion of knowledge that it is impossible to verify or falsify the claim that knowledge is doubling every 12 hours right now. But, think about it: If this claim is true, that means 730 doublings in one year. If we have not yet reached this stage, we will reach it shortly. It means we will soon have more bits of information than there are atoms in the universe. This is a scary new age — some call this approaching phenomenon ‘singularity’.

We are approaching singularity and I have no idea how this will look or feel like. I feel like a caveman in this day and age — I have no clue how I will be able to adapt to these new realities. I have called this phenomenon FONKU (Fear of Not Keeping Up) — you can read it below:

Practical Strategies and Actions for Dealing with Knowledge Explosion

In the remainder of this article, I would like to share my personal principles and practices to cope with knowledge explosion:

  • Learn to skim and read very fast. While reading something, be strategic about what you will get out of it. Focus on the key points and move on. Do not feel compelled to finish a book or an article if you do not find it particularly insightful or useful.
  • When you feel overwhelmed, stop and take a deep breath. Focus on the present and developing your mindfulness. Open your notebook or diary and capture your stream of consciousness. Write for 10 or 20 minutes — go on until you feel better. If you cannot resolve the issues, take a long walk or a relaxing bath.
  • Do not feel guilty about ignoring extra information. When you receive hundreds of emails every day, it is natural that you will miss some of the bits. Not all information is equal — you are better off if you ignore some of it. So you need to filter emails ruthlessly — prioritize and focus only on what you need to focus on. You need to be very selective and deliberate in your use of time.
  • Follow your heart and intuition when you are choosing what to read or respond to. Be an observer of your thoughts and feelings. Allow your subconscious to do the work. Focus on your emotions and senses — how do you feel? Let your heart make the decision for you. If you are very excited by something, you need to follow it and take an action about it in just a few seconds.
  • Be very clear on your true priorities. Always prioritize your action: What the top one thing that you need to focus on right now? What is your most important and urgent priority? What would you do if you had only two hours to work instead of 9-to-5? Focus on that urgent and important matter — ignore everything else. Do what is in front of you — eat that frog first thing in the morning.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep and rest. When you are stressed out, try to calm down and take good care of yourself. Cancel one of your tasks on your to-do-list and swap it with something relaxing or inspiring. What will help you best? Exercising, meditating, walking, cooking, eating healthy food, dancing, getting a nap, taking a shower, immersing yourself in a hobby… Do whatever will help you feel better.
  • If it is good enough, let it go. Do not try to reach perfection in everything that you do. Ship it, forward it, or delegate it if you can.
  • Even if you do not have all the facts, take an action and defend it. Do not let your anxiety act as a destructive force. What is the worst that can happen? Think of some solutions to address this situation. After doing this, you need to let it go and move forward.
  • You will sometimes face huge challenges and it will be OK. Treat each challenge as an opportunity for learning and growth. When you accept pain or suffering, you can transcend above it and create holistic solutions.
  • Decide which knowledge is useful for you in this situation, and which is not. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler
  • Remember that knowledge becomes obsolete even in a very short amount of time. Use your critical perspective, questioning, fresh ideas, and imagination to design new possibilities.
  • If you feel anxious about too many choices and possibilities, you need to start from somewhere even if it might not be the perfect solution. Any action is better than no action — you need to take some risks and conduct some experiments. Mistakes and failures are OK — as long as you learn from them.
  • Your time and energy are very precious. Be very deliberate and mindful about how to invest your time and energy. Focus on just a few high-value decisions, actions, or projects. Take a break when you need to.
  • If your ambition is too big, always break it into parts and make a to-do list. Start with small actions to make progress on each part.
  • Do not multitask. Focus on one thing only. What is the most important thing? Why?
  • When you feel paralyzed, get out of your ruminations. Get out of your head and do something physical. Give a hug to beloved ones or call a friend. Keep a gratitude journal and count your blessings.
  • Learn to say no. You do not need to accomplish all. Do not waste your time on things that are not a good fit for you. Ask yourself: Is this really a must? Can you let it go? Why?
  • Choose tasks or projects where you can shine. How can you best capitalize on your strengths? How can you use your best skills, talents, and curiosities? Let your enthusiasm and passion drive you.
  • Keep learning, unlearning, and relearning constantly. Once you stop learning and using your imagination, you start dying inside. You need to reclaim your naive curiosity, openness, and creativity.

Fahri Karakas is the author of the Self-making Studio. You can explore more here.

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Fahri Karakas

Written by

Associate Professor in Business & Leadership at University of East Anglia. Passionate about doodling, imagination, and creativity. Author of Self-Making Studio.

Predict

Predict

where the future is written

Fahri Karakas

Written by

Associate Professor in Business & Leadership at University of East Anglia. Passionate about doodling, imagination, and creativity. Author of Self-Making Studio.

Predict

Predict

where the future is written

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