We’ve learned from Nicholas Carr how the Internet is driving our thinking into “The Shallows.” Clay Shirky shared the blessings of our “Cognitive Surplus”—the resources that are voluntarily poured into making the world a better place through technology. James Gleick’s “The Information” chronicled how we’ve dealt with information through the ages.
Now Jonathan Spira (Wikipedia| IORG bio) comes forth with a book that goes easy on the social commentary and builds a compelling case with original research and well-chosen anecdotes about what information overload is doing to knowledge workers in the U.S. It’s called Overload! How Too Much Information is Hazardous to your Organization.
Spira, CEO and chief analyst at the New York research firm Basex, gets our attention with a boatload of factoids:
- There are 78.6 million knowledge workers in the United States alone.
- Information Overload cost the U.S. economy almost $1 trillion in 2010.
- A minimum of 28 billion hours is lost each year to Information Overload in the United States.
- Reading and processing just 100 e-mail messages can occupy over half of a knowledge worker’s day.
- It takes five minutes to get back on track after a 30-second interruption.
- For every 100 people who are unnecessarily copied on an e-mail, eight hours are lost.
- 58 percent of government workers spend half the workday filing, deleting, or sorting information, at a cost of almost $31 billion dollars.
- 66 percent of knowledge workers feel they don’t have enough time to get all of their work done.
- 94 percent of those surveyed at some point have felt overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacitation.
- One major Fortune 500 company estimates that Information Overload impacts its bottom line to the tune of $1 billion per year.
- Information Overload has caused people to lose their ability to manage thoughts and ideas, contemplate, and even reason and think.
Spira also presents 10 tips to help lower information overload, distilled from his 25 years as a technology thought leader:
- I will not e-mail someone and then two seconds later follow up with an IM or phone call.
- I will refrain from combining multiple themes and requests in a single e-mail.
- I will make sure that the subject of my e-mail clearly reflects both the topic and urgency of the missive.
- I will read my own e-mail before sending to make sure it is comprehensible to others.
- I will not overburden colleagues with unnecessary e-mail, especialliy one-word replies such as “Thanks!” or “Great!” and will use “reply to all” only when absolutely necessary.
Instant messaging and presence awareness
- I will not get impatient when there’s no immediate response to my message.
- I will keep my presence awareness state up-to-date and visible to others so they know whether I’m busy or away.
All forms of communication
- I will recognize that the intended recipient of my communications is not a mind reader, and therefore I will supply the necessary details in my messages so nothing is left to the imagination.
- I will recognize that typed words can be misleading in terms of both tone and intent, and I will strive for clarity and simplicity in my messages. (The use of an occasional, well-placed emoticon can do wonders here.)
- Finally, because i understand the complexity and severity of the problem of Information overload, I will do whatever I can to facilitate the transfer and sharing of knowledge.
Spira devotes a chapter to “The Tech Industry and Information Overload,” and presents a behind-the-scenes look at the founding of the Information Overload Research Group (iorgforum.org). He offers probably the only accurate story out there of how IORG came to be. Despite the PR props that several large companies have received for “banding together” to solve the IO problem, the only meaningful support has come from Intel and Microsoft Research (for sponsoring the two-day conference at which IORG was born) and Xerox (for a grant that funded the organization’s first couple of years).
Full disclosure: Jonathan and I both serve on IORG’s board of directors.