Monday, July 07, 2008

I'm an info-addict

I've noticed for a long time now that it takes me longer to get certain things done nowadays than it used to. Writing and reading online are frequently interrupted by emails, cell phone calls, Twits, etc. I've spent the better part of the last two weeks writing, and re-writing proposals for work. In order to get this process completed, I've had to shut down Twitter, turn off my cell, avoid my blog, and log out of Google Reader. I think I'm an info-addict.

I read Wikipedia voluntarily and with no real purpose. A simple Google search for research on e34 BMW's will send me on a half hour mindless trip through the blogosphere clicking here and clicking there and ending up on a graduate student paper on political intrigues between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines in the Twelfth century Holy Roman Empire. Clearly, I have a problem.

We all do, really. Technology has been designed to get us all the information all the time. We don't need it, but it's there now. It's inescapable.

Gordon Gravitz of the Wall Street Journal has an article about information overload and some of the steps being taken to deal with it. Here is a quote:

Warning: On average, knowledge workers change activities every three minutes, usually because they're distracted by email or a phone call. It then takes almost half an hour to get back to the task once attention is lost. So if you're trying to read this column at the office or within range of your mobile device, what should be a few minutes can take much longer. Consider the rest of this article an 800-word test of your ability to maintain attention.

A decline in our ability to focus is a side effect of the otherwise powerful tools we use to gather and analyze information. A new organization has just been launched, the Information Overload Research Group, whose founders include executives from companies such as Microsoft, Google, IBM and Intel. These are the very companies that have done the most to create the information tools that undermine our ability to focus; indeed, an initiative from them to address too much information could be compared to video-game programmers launching a line of Zen meditation centers. Still, it's encouraging that the most information-intense companies are trying to overcome their own overload.

I know now that there is no way I can absorb all the information provided for me. Even bookmarking and crowd sourcing websites are of limited value- I see too much "majority rules" bias in them. I have to be very disciplined about what I read, and why. I don't think that a software filter will be able to do this very human task. Many human beings aren't going to be able to discipline themselves, and will still have a need for trusted authorities.

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