Musing on information overload: time off?

November 1, 2011

Admittedly not the best topic to bring up if one wants to increase traffic to one blog, but honesty dictates to shares my thoughts on this with you. It came about by the coincidence of two things: (1) my internet connection is down for technical reasons (I go on-line to do something and then disconnect again), and (2) I read belatedly Schumpeter’s column in the Economist of 2 July 2011 “Too much information”. The latter does not say anything shockingly new but is a good summing up of the problem. Not only the quantity of information is staggering (and continues to ‘stagger’ by doubling the amount of data stored every 18 months) but also the omnipresence and fragmentation due to ease of constant access (broadband, mobile access) is major factor.

The possible solutions include better filtering although I personally have doubt about the real effect of this. If the filters would successfully trim down the overload, it could well risk to make the feeling of stress even worse as the recipients ends up with a larger amount of important and urgent matters that require action or response. The filtering would only be useful if it would reduce the total amount of things to read or see, and one could feel sure that the stuff eliminated is really not important: a substantive SPAM filter that does not need to be checked.

More promising seems to be the ‘solution’ of time off, i.e. disconnecting from the internet and mobile phones completely for at least a few hours a day. This would restore people’s capacity to focus, thus to be more creative and productive as shown by considerable research quoted in the above-mentioned article.

The effect of this on my blog on Human Rights Defenders? Well, one of its purposes has always been to help people to digest the enormous amount of information available even on a relatively narrow topic such as HRDs. The selection may be biased and the way I summarize may be incomplete, but the blogs are usually short and ..- even if due only to my failing internet – there will be less of them for a while.

Johann Hari’s observation comes to mind: there is a good reason that ‘wired’ means both “connected” and “frantic, unable to concentrate”!


One Response to “Musing on information overload: time off?”

  1. Alexandra Bisia Says:

    I think this is relevant to the topic: According to a study, people who work in offices and claim to check their e-mail once every hour actually do it every 5 minutes! I found this shocking. What will come next?

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