Data is Noise Until it is Part of a Story

Every day I receive an absurd amount of data to absorb, from what I was dreaming about when I woke up, to what is on the radio when I drive into work, to what is in my twitter feed when I check my phone. I have multiple conversations, hundreds of emails, and a calendar full of tasks. My body is sending signals about how it feels, people are sending signals about how they feel, and I am constantly plagued with new ideas, doubts and questions. There is so much data flooding into my five senses every second of the day it is a wonder I can make any sense of it. It is a wonder I don't crawl up into the fetal position and hope it all settles down.

Fortunately I don’t - at least not most days. This is not because I am incredibly smart. It is because I don’t have to sort through all this data myself. My brain does a lot of filtering for me unconsciously by asking one question: is this new piece of data important to my story. If the answer is “maybe” then it prods me to pay attention to it while allowing me to ignore everything else. If the answer becomes “yes, this is important” then it lodges that piece of information deep in me in the form of an emotion so I won’t forget about it.

This isn’t unique to me. Everyone filters unconsciously based on their own story. This means we all observe things differently. This also means we remember and attach value to different things depending on our preconceived idea of what our story is.

Jonathan Collins resides in Portland, OR with his wife and two sons. He is a co-founder of EpipheoSincerely Truman and The Bible Project. He enjoys turning ideas into realities, writing, speaking and breakfast burritos.

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