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Information Overload Warnings for Dummies

Research suggests that we have an information problem:

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind.
Oh, wait. No. He’s talking about the invention of the printing press, not the internet.
Looks like scaremongering about new technology is an ages-old art form. 

#dConstruct – the architecture of serendipity and analogue Tumblr

Frank Chimero

A really fascinating talk by Frank Chimero about curating, organising and accessing all the digital “possessions” we’re accumulating, including Likes and things we favourite, and notes we make.

The very different characteristics of digital and analogue material are certainly a fascinating topic. Analogue is owned and forces you to remember it by its presence. Digital feels like we pay for access to it, and is often invisible until we seek to find it.

Digitally, we have piles of stuff, but it’s not a physical pile  – it’s a collection of information, much of which lacks context in an accessible forms – particularly our choices to star/heart/favourite/like/+1 pieces of content. Can we put everything we like in one place? 19th Century Gentlemen did in their Commonplace books. (An analogue Tumblr blog…?) It’s “curation as authorship”.

The Creator Economy – producing and consuming in the same act

The Architecture of Serendipity

Curation is collection with an architecture of arrangement. Arrangement requires  a second pass. (I agree with that – I often give onld sections of this blog a second pass – I should do more of that with my “information buckets”) We need technology optimised for the second pass:

  1. How we sort things – location, alphabet, time, category, hierarchy (latch. We tend to sort things in reverse chronological, which is great for the new, but not for things you’ve seen before. Digital is infinitely mutable – things can exist in more then one place at once.
  2. How we move through time – content can time-shift. Instapaper allows us to postpone reading things. It’s a time machine that pushes content into your future.
  3. What media is supported – Lots of women’s fashion blogs do this – they curate looks, Biblion – an iPad app that curates exhibitions specially.
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Why E-Mail is Failing Us

E-mail. No-one thinks of it as a social app. It’s hardly what we think of as Web 2.0, yet it’s the most social piece of software most of us use each day.

Oh, and it’s broken.

Suw Charman-AndersonThat, at least, was what Suw Charman-Anderson suggested at one of the keynote sessions of the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin today.

She pointed out that e-mail has gone from something you needed a business case for a decade ago, to the first thing you get in a new job. And that’s creating a problem:

• 13% of people are getting more than 250 e-mails per day
• 56% of people think they’re spending too long on e-mail.
The reality is worse than that, she suggested, because we tend to underestimate our e-mail use.

The fundamental problem is that e-mail alerts interrupt us – there’s a cost to that.

It takes us 1m 44 secs 64 seconds to get our train of thought back after we deal with e-mail. (The 1m 44s figure is for how long we take to process the alert. Thanks for the correction, Suw) We can’t afford to spend a day a week figuring our what we were doing.

Psychologist have a term that describes our relationship with e-mail: operant conditioning – when we check e-mail, sometimes we get a nice one.That starts to create an emotional relationship with checking e-mail.  Scientists explore the idea by feeding rats when they press levers. Rats will press a lever five times, if that’s how often it takes to get food. But they get obsessed with lever-pushing when the food reward is random. That’s exactly relationship we have with e-mail. We keep checking it, in the hope that an emotionally-boosting one will come through.

Coupled with that, e-mail has become a proxy for work. Web working makes it difficult to judge how productive people are. If send lots of e-mail, clearly they’re doing lots of work – or so goes the thinking.

Together, these responses are rapidly eroding our productivity. So what’s the solution? You need to thhink about other ways of doing the same tasks – but with different tools.

Document collaboration – doing this via e-mail, and merging it all at the end is one of the most soul-destroying ways of doing it. Using wikis is easier.

Sharing Information – Don’t e-mail it. Publishing blogs and make sure everyone uses RSS. There need to be RSS readers for everyone in the company –  a step that is often forgotten.

Short Conversations – use IM and chat for instant communication. E-mail makes conversations go on too long, as everyone feels need to be polite. IM conversations tend to be quick and to-the-point.

You can read a summary of a more detailed version of Suw’s talk at her site.