Work space design patterns describe the effect of clutter on critical thinking. Junk filled rooms in homes and offices take a silent toll on occupants. Piles of clutter are seldom if ever needed, even their organization (or lack thereof) acts as a distraction in the background. Although a nuisance, junk piles are physically obvious, and can be cleaned up with a little elbow grease and prevented with a touch of discipline.
Many of us strive for clarity in our thoughts, and work to keep our work spaces free from clutter. But we take digital baggage for granted. Bookmarks, friends, follows, subscriptions, supported apps, unfinished books, and task lists all contribute to mental overhead. The pile rarely remains stable, and nearly always continues to grow without bounds.
Like active processes waiting in memory to be called to life, lists and subscriptions take up valuable mental space*. We cram as much relevant data as possible into our awareness, and expect our well trained minds to extract valuable information. Most of the time, it works out well but the cost is far from insignificant. The calming presence of reduced mental noise is priceless.
Over time repeat access of specific sites and documents reinforces usage patterns. While this form of mental training diminishes the distraction of multi-tasking, it limits the creative freedom which leads to imaginative solutions. Even well organized mental footnotes have a subtle cost on a clear mind, as we tend to favor well trodden paths. At the very least it's worth being aware of the overhead of compulsively opting in to data fire hoses, and it doesn't hurt to periodically review the quality of our information sources.
*= ram for fellow computer geeks