A question asked at the 2009 ACEM Winter Symposium following our presentation on ‘The Web 2.0 Rollercoaster’ was: How can emergency physicians deal with information overload?
Fear of information overload is a barrier preventing doctors from using web resources. But, given that humanity has been experiencing information overload since the invention of the Gutenberg press, ignoring web resources to avoid confronting this daunting problem is a maladaptive, self-defeating strategy. Here are some ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ pointers to help ‘Web 2.0 laggards’ pull their heads out of the ground and off-load the stress of information overload.
How much information or how many messages are we hit with today?
It’s too much, how can we make sense of it all and find what we are looking for? Not many people have the time to sift through and entire copy of the New York Times each day; at best we can look through it to see what is important to our lives, careers, families or what interests us.
Email Overload had originally (that is, in the mid-1990s when the problem erupted) involved the existence of too much incoming mail. There were just too many messages arriving in the Inbox and needing to be processed. The metaphor I liked to use was of snowfall: the flakes keep coming down, and unless you shovel the accumulated layer away your driveway will be buried. What you had to do was set times to do the shoveling, and learn to do it faster.
Here’s a story from the early nineties, a time when much information in the workplace was stored and moved on sheets of mashed tree pulp.
Back then I was doing research into Artificial Neural Networks, and my coworkers at Intel got into the habit of mailing me (in an inter-office envelope) a copy of any article on the subject that they came across. And I got into the habit of piling the articles at the corner of my desk, so that I might read them one day when I had the time. After all, they were articles in my field of interest, so it made sense that I should read them and become wiser.
Telemarketers are one of the annoyances we all live with, and contribute their part to the overall flow of interruptions that it damaging our ability to concentrate on what we want to do. I find it interesting that these days, at any rate here in Israel, these rascals are following in the footsteps of our work-related information overload into the evening hours.
Most people understand how valuable information is in the business world; however, many struggle with the myriad of sources available and how to keep up with Generation Y and the astonishing ease in with they can collect, sort and process information. For those of us a little older, we have to change the way we deal with information and be open minded for the rapid transformations we are facing.
I recently finished Tyler Cowen’s latest book, Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World. Like everything he writes, this book is worth reading and it will be of interest to those who follow technology policy debates since Cowen makes a passionate case for “Internet optimism” in the face of recent criticisms of the Internet and the Information Age in general.
As I have been talking to many firms about their social networking strategy, a problem often comes up in the conversation that is more personal to the people involved. As they are, correctly, exploring the social media themselves, they begin to feel the effects of information overload and want to know how they should handle it.
I do not pretend I know all the answers on this subject. But I think it is something that all of us that play or work on line tend to feel at one point or another. And I know if my case, I have found a couple ways to deal with it.
There is a ton of information out there on the Internet, but how do you handle it? How do you actually consume all of the information?
If you’re asking yourself those questions then you are suffering from information overload, and the best way to deal with it is to try and filter out the crap that comes through and focus only on the gold. There are a lot of websites out there that offer a ton of information on a daily basis – such as TechMeme and Digg – but most of the stuff they publish will not interest you, so don’t use them for information: filter them out.