In physics and engineering, the “signal-to-noise ratio” essentially compares the level of meaningful information, signal, to the level of undesired disturbance, noise. The greater your signal-to-noise ratio, the higher the level of meaningful information in the signal you’re trying to send or receive. Though the signal-to-noise ratio has an important use in the applied sciences, it also serves as a useful metaphor for life in today’s age of abundant information.

The problem of today’s world is we have unlimited access to vast amounts of information, but much of that information isn’t useful at all. How can that be? It becomes clear after you try to understand the business model of platforms that either distribute or curate information for the public. 

The main goal of all of these platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or news channels, is to grab attention. Views, interactions, likes and comments are the name of the game. The more you use these platforms, the more ads you can be shown and the higher the revenues for each platform. But information designed to grab your attention is not necessarily information that is useful or truthful. Those trying to dominate the “economy of attention” are more concerned about the level of engagement on their platforms than the quality of information available. The level of noise far eclipses the level of the signal. 

It took some time for this to dawn on me, but I noticed that every time I finished using Twitter or Instagram, I didn’t feel any more informed. It felt like disappearing from reality and appearing back seemingly dumber than before. All the tweets, headlines and photos evoked reactions and got my attention, but were often plainly untrue or sensationalist in nature. So I started to deploy a strategy I call “aggressive unfollowing.” Any page or account that was clearly manipulating information to get my attention was instantly unfollowed. I went from following close to 1000 accounts on Twitter to just 341. I went from maximizing information to maximizing my signal-to-noise ratio. It was then that I actually started enjoying Twitter and other social media platforms. The lack of noise meant that I was exposed to useful information and ideas that were previously getting drowned out.

To the Yalies reading this, I suggest you do the same. Treat your attention valuably enough that it’s not up for free use. Take a moment and browse through all the social media and news sources you follow. Is the content you see all hype and hyperbole, or is there any meaningful information out there? Unfollow the accounts that are just noise. You’ll have to be a bit ruthless if you do so, but I’m sure it’ll allow you to access better quality information. A useful heuristic I often use when choosing what sources or accounts to follow on social media is checking if they have a relatively small number of followers  — say under 100k — and are more than five years old on the platform. The lack of followers often signals that they operate in a niche information set that doesn’t aim to appeal to the broad population or attempt to post only what’s  “attention-grabbing”. Truth and useful information are often boring. A lot of answers take the form of, “it depends” or even more often, “I don’t know.” Boring may not attract likes and follows, but it’s often an indication of a high signal-to-noise ratio.

Control your signal-to-noise ratio and you’ll control a huge part of how you experience life.

SAYYED HAIDER HASSAN is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact him at

Sayyed Haider Hassan is a junior in Morse College. Reach out to him at