Reducing Information Pollution
Five millennia of written record are about to grind to a halt. The fault, of course, is with our marvelous digital inventions: email, instant messaging, social media, and so on. So much better than a posted letter on paper, or papyrus, or parchment, or clay – as fast as an electric current or radio wave, cheap, reliable… but totally ephemeral. Clay tablets survive for millennia; paper can, absent major disaster, stay legible for many centuries. Email disappears, most of it as soon as you hit DELETE, but even the rest, the messages you archive in folders, will not survive for more than a decade or two.
In science, they say, “what you see is what you get”. Usually what you’re looking at for the most part is the truth, but there is so much to take in in this world. When it comes to people and their stories they run so much deeper than a surface glance; sometimes it’s hard to tell which truth we are looking at.It’s normal for us to make up our mind on how we feel about something, almost immediately, it’s a common turn of phrase, don’t judge a book by its cover, advice much of humanity seems to have forgotten. We all have different faces for different situations, when we argue we put on intimidating eyes and flared nostrils, when we are sad we avert our eyes and are somber in tone when we are happy we use our eyes to stare right into whatever it is which has ignited our joy.
In the Hellenistic Era—that’s 323 BC to 31 BC, for all you numbers fans—the Library of Alexandria, Egypt was a research hub of high prestige. But while certainly the largest of its time and the most famous, the Library of Alexandria wasn’t the only institution of its kind. Libraries throughout the ancient world competed to be the best Greek library, in rivalries that proved as dangerous and unscrupulous as actual wars.
I was discussing with a college student I’ve been advising whether it was a good or a bad thing that Google makes access to answers so easy. To my surprise, she opined that it’s a bad thing – because people who use Google to answer a question are more likely to forget the answer they find, whereas if they have to think the problem through and discover the answer for themselves they will remember it in the long term. This shows that our ambivalence to information use goes back to antiquity…
I’ve been engaged in the battle on Information Overload since 1995, when it exploded across Intel – where I was Computing Productivity manager at the time – with the now familiar devastation to people’s effectiveness and quality of life. In the 15 years since then I’ve driven a variety of solution efforts at various companies; I’ve communicated with scores of like minded professionals fighting IO around the world, exchanging and developing new solutions; and I’ve had the pleasure of co-founding the Information Overload Research Group with some of them. With all this activity, and the introspection a new year calls for, the question comes to mind: are we winning or losing? Read more…