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The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

by Daniel J. Levitin

Daniel J. Levitin, professor of psychology and behavioural neuroscience at McGill University and author of the bestsellers This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs, is clearly in tune with the intellectual zeitgeist. Our culture seeks to explain modern life via the latest findings in brain research, evolution, and information theory. Those having problems adjusting to the 21st century’s rapidly changing social and cultural environment frequently turn to experts like Levitin for answers.

In that spirit, Levitin’s new book is a science-based self-help manual. The Organized Mind starts with the premise that information has become “the key resource” in our lives, but, due mainly to the digital revolution, we are drowning in a flood of it. Drawing on research in the fields of neuroscience and social psychology, the author suggests some basic guidelines for how to thrive in this new environment.

After explaining what we know about concepts like attention, information, and memory, Levitin discusses how to better negotiate our lives, including a test case focusing on how to deal with the diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening illness. He concludes with some words on the values and skills we should be teaching our children to better prepare them for life in an age of information overload.

Most of the analysis is informative and entertaining. Levitin’s overarching principle is that we need to shift the burden of organization in our lives from our brains to the external world. Much of what he says is common sense in fancy dress, or old news (we are told that we need to get better at understanding statistics and how to sift information critically), but that is the nature of many – if not all – self-help books. Otherwise, there is plenty to be mulled over and enjoyed, like the author’s analysis of the pitfalls of procrastination and his dismantling of the myth of multitasking.
We are all living in an information age. Levitin provides an excellent guide to survive and thrive by getting our mental homes in order.