Monthly Archives: July 2011

Information overload: Are we closer to independence?

It’s been the biggest week that I can recall for commentary about information overload.

The week kicked off with the Information Overload Research Group’s “virtual literary salon” with five authors whose books address various facets of the topic: Dave Crenshaw (The Myth of Multitasking), Daniel Forrester (Consider), Maggie Jackson (Distracted), William Powers (Hamlet’s BlackBerry), and Jonathan Spira (Overload!). You can listen to the 90-minute panel and read excellent summaries at Overload Stories and Workplace Frontiers.

Chris Anderson, who curates the TED conferences, published an Email Charter (a blog post that evolved into a really great idea). He presents an insight that should be part of any business case for fighting overload: The average time taken to respond to an email is greater, in aggregate, than the time it took to create.

The charter includes 10 behaviors that will go a long way toward improving the way we use email. They include “Respect recipients’ time,” “Celebrate clarity,” and “Cut contentless responses.” David Pogue at the New York Times contributed five proposed rules of his own in “We Have to Fix E-Mail.”

At the Economist, Schumpeter articulately outlined the overall problem and potential solutions in “Too Much Information: How to Cope with Data Overload.” His prescription includes technology, willpower, training, and cultural change.

IDC released its fifth report on the state of the digital universe, “Extracting Value from Chaos.” The situation in a nutshell: “Like our physical universe, the digital universe is something to behold—1.8 trillion gigabytes in 500 quadrillion ‘files’—and more than doubling every two years. That’s nearly as many bits of information in the digital universe as stars in our physical universe.” You can download the PDF or view the multimedia edition. The Financial Post offers the Reader’s Digest version.

If you want the real Reader’s Digest’s take on information overload, RD itself weighed in with an article called “How to Save Your Brain from Online Overload.”

So as Independence Day approaches in the U.S., a question: Are we any closer to finding our freedom from information overload? One thing is certain: It will take a global village.

As Maggie Jackson said in the IORG panel discussion: “Beyond individual habits, this is a collective social task. We didn’t green the environment by changing our own trash habits.

“I see the same thing regarding attention and overload. We’re creating values with regard to attention.”

Certainly that’s true with the email charter. The key may be acting on William Powers’ counsel: “Do things with others in mind.”


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