Information Overload

We all suffer from it at times: information overload. If the plus side of modern media is that we can be ‘connected’ all the time (Blackberry outages and Broadband failures excepted), the down side is that, unless we are strict with ourselves, we can fail to digest what we receive and our responses become instinctive rather than thought through. There’s nothing wrong with that if we are saints or geniuses, but for those of us who aren’t, I suspect there are only two options. Either we learn to speed-read (web developers will tell you that a webpage has only three seconds to grab attention and fifteen to maintain it) or we cultivate the habit of stopping and savouring before passing on to something new. Personally, I prefer the latter because it reflects not only the monastic tradition but the way I used to do historical research, engaging in dialogue with the text rather than simply trying to absorb it for future regurgitation.

The recent Blackberry breakdown has reminded everyone how fallible our interconnectivity is. Instead of fretting about it, perhaps we could see it as an opportunity to ask ourselves why and how we use the internet, what it contributes to our lives and what it may detract from them. ‘Information’, after all, comes from the Latin informare, to give shape to. We are shaped and fashioned by what we do online as well as offline. Information overload is a serious business.

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6 thoughts on “Information Overload”

  1. As a university lecturer, I find that students are having massive problems with dealing with information overload. Many have lost the art of analysis: they tend to confound it with just giving long lists.

    At a personal level, I build “fast days” into my working week: Days when I only go online in the morning and the evening to check my mail, and otherwise work offline or (**gasp**) with pen, paper and printed matter.
    This gives me the sense (or illusion) of still being the master over all these e-tools.

  2. Thank you. It’s well-known that we go offline whenever we think we should, but I think the problem is more general than ‘just’ switching off automated alerts or limiting the time we spend online. As you rightly say, analysis is being squeezed out. What I call the ‘googlification’ of research carries over into everyday life.

  3. I find it interesting how often your posts mirror things I am contemplating. I work in IT at a small Midwestern (US) university. As I write this, I am surrounded by an iPad, iPod, laptop, IP phone, and waiting at home for me is a staggering array of technology. But as much as all that is, the faculty I provide support to are not necessarily all that technology minded, so I have to stop, and think about what it is I am trying to say so I can translate from what I think in to what they work in. It is vital that I be able to do this, and I think this is what keeps me from hitting the overload wall.

  4. Thank you for another wise piece. It strikes me that one of the riches of the Christian traditions of reading our shared texts is that of repetition – we go back to the same texts again and again and find both accumulated wisdom concerning these texts and something new in our own rereadings. Most of what we offer in the blogosphere does not get reread either because of the content itself or because of the medium. What it can do, however, is exactly what you do so well, which is to lead us back to our shared texts to read them once again with new eyes.

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