In consuming many articles and talks on information overload, I hear the same thing repeated: if we can improve the way that information is filtered,  and reduce the non-relevant items from the stream of information coming at us, we can alleviate the problem of information overload. I find that quite the reverse is true. Information filtering, especially social information filtering, has gotten so good that now I truly feel that I can’t keep up. After not going to NYT, Google Reader, Twitter, and Facebook for a few days (or at least quickly closing the browser window if I happened to have gone there out of habit), I felt strangely removed. One person told me that Ted Stevens had died in a plane crash, and it was news to me. Today I gave in. There is something about paper writing that kicks my browsing into high gear. Arts & Letters Daily had links to articles on ugliness and tenure (separate articles), NYT most emailed list had an article on Netflix buying streaming rights, and living life with less stuff (hah!). My dad had been documenting some fascinating insect behavior on his website. Opening up my Twitter feed, just on the first page I found out that Bob Kraut had been awarded the Golden Fleece award in 1980, that there is a Social Computing conference CFP, that Twitter has bigger penetration in Brazil than the US, that danah had participated in a privacy debate at the Supernova conference, a fun comic illustrating what a PhD is, etc.  I also looked at my Facebook feed (above the fold), I don’t even have to tell you about that.

I look back on the days when I would turn my TV, computer, etc. off because the cost of searching for good stuff outweighed the benefit of consuming it. Even just a few years ago, it was a treat to get a pointer to an article or a new show. Now there is a firehose spewing interesting content all the time. Help!

  4 Responses to “good information filtering -> bad information overload”

  1. Well, you removed the information overload problem – now you have an ‘interesting overload’ and an ‘attention shortfall’.

  2. It’s the weird modern equivalent of arriving at an enormous library, filled with wonderful books, and realizing that with certainty, there are more which are worth reading than you have the time in your life to read. We have to find peace with the incompleteness of our experience somehow. I wish I knew how.

  3. now I really want to read an article about ugliness and tenure

  4. In professional organizations, different people need to know different things: some people watch competitors, others watch markets move, and some watch emerging technologies. Depending on your role, the main thing may not be that you’re on top of things in person, but that you know somebody (may well be a whole group) that you can ask.

    I like Zane’s libary analogy, and again we don’t read whole libraries, we feel more comfortable with leaving the XYZ section to somebody else.

    If you have been out of the online media loop for a week, there’s probably not much harm done if you just click the “mark all as read” buttons and take it from there. It usually helps to limit your time spent on information consumption unrelated to particular tasks to 30 min – 1 hour per day or so.

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