information overload

Lots of things have been contributing to me feeling “information overload” lately. I’m working hard on my dissertation right now so I don’t have a lot of time to “waste” keeping up with everything. As the election gets closer here in the US I’m also trying to get as much information as I can on candidates and what’s going on in the political scene. Couple that with all the various, and awesome, ways to get information these days and sometimes I feel like my brain is going to explode. There’s online news, blogs, RSS, YouTube, Twitter, identi.ca, IM, and that ancient thing called email. The American people basically DoSed the House website on Monday and following trying to get at information.

So a few questions:

  1. How do you keep from getting overloaded with information?
  2. Would increased governmental transparency (i.e. citizens getting at the raw information rather than the filtered stuff you get on the news) be a good thing? or would we just get collective information overload?
  3. How can we, as “technologists”, balance innovation (new ways to generate and retrieve data) with helping people get just the data that they need and in such a way that they can keep their sanity? 🙂

Part of the problem with information overload is having so many sources. I for one feel like I’m getting technology-induced ADD. I’m doing work, watching Gwibber for the latest “dents” and “twits”, talking to 3 people on Jabber, watching the Yahoo news headlines, … It’s certainly not very productive, but how do we cut down on focus-snatching without losing “connection” with the world around us and the people we interact with?

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4 thoughts on “information overload

  1. Our information tools just don’t understand our preferences. We need better ways of prioritising information based on our personal preferences. For example, with I want to prioritise my friends, then posts directed at me, then stuff about Debian (with different prioritisation among the lists I’m on), then geek blogs, then general news.

  2. Hey Jordan,
    I’ve just started working for AideRSS, which filters and ranks RSS Feeds to reduce exactly what you’re talking about: information overload. We just released a new and improved beta site which you’d be welcome to try out. Just send me an email if you’re interested.

  3. foo raises an interesting point regarding preferences, and I think prioritisation needs to be continually evaluated. For instance, I’m considerably more productive by adapting my GUI workflow (e.g., using a tiling window manager with at most two applications per workspace) to reduce the amount of information “bombarding” me. I’ve conceded that the “presence” and quality of my interactions are improved when I don’t attempt to be everywhere simultaneously. Other people are more productive when they see many things happening in their GUI.

    “Government transparency” is an ideal[0], but it is one we must strive toward diligently. I realise certain (limited) contexts that proceed more adroitly with access controls, compartmentalisation, etc., but these contexts should (and by definition) be restricted. Many people choose to complain bitterly about the government as a separate entity too unwieldy to be changed, but “of the people, by the people, for the people” implies that the more technically minded among us should reach out and help educate the rest of the grassroots. Then, we can mold policy to better affect changes to inputs, drivers, and processes.

    Each person’s priorities will determine whether s/he is overloaded. We need to be more attuned, more truthful about our limitations.

    [0] I recently attended a District of Columbia Association for Computing Machinery lecture by Dr. Hoare[1] wherein he differentiated between the ideals and pragmatisms of scientists and engineers, respectively.
    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._A._R._Hoare

  4. Information Overload has become a major problem affecting productivity, quality of life and the very ability to think for knowledge workers worldwide. Check our newly launched non-profit, the Information Overload Research Group (http://www.iorgforum.org), for more on the problem and the search for solutions… and wish us luck!

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