There is a lot of discussion around creating better filters to solve our information overload and also a bit of a backlash about filters - most notably Eli Pariser's talk on Beware the Online Filter Bubble and another great perspective from Graham Chastney. All of these discussions are important but I see information overload as primarily a human problem, not a technical one. A few years ago I wrote a post about scarcity and ambundance and I still think this is the fundamental issue at play with information. Humans are driven to hoard because our impulses were built for an environment of scarcity. We are worried that if we don't read everything - particularly if passed on through trusted social connections - we might miss something important and that makes us anxious. We mistake the available and accessible for the valuable.
Yes, technology can help with this problem by throttling the information we see but we still have that issue of human anxiety. To make headway against this pernicious impluse requires some challenging behavior change:
- Self awareness about our interests, needs, and priorities - both short-term which are in constant flux and long-term which need constant, if not deep, attention to acheive.
- Ability to translate priorities into information needs.
- Ability to connect our information needs tactically to how we set up our information environment.
- The consistency and time to adapt as our priorities do.
That is a tall order for most of us which is why I believe the problem of information overload will be with us for a while. It's a complex adaptive system and most of us have been raised and educated for a world of transactional processes which we can 'perfect'. I've spoken before about decision-making in this new world - and I don't think most of us are ready for it. We want the security of knowing we are making the right choices which assumes a static context. The sand and information, however, is now in constant flux... which in many ways contributes even more to our need to hoard information so we can try to make a 'perfect' decision.
What to do? So far the only solution I've really found is to muddle through and get comfortable with turning off devices, knowing I'm missing things and trusting that if it is really important, it will circle back. This may also be why I still rely on my Moleskin to keep my priorities clear. Online it is too easy to dive down rat holes of information that, while fascinating, are not related to my priorities.
How do you keep yourself from needing to see and read it all?