The Information Flood - Macleans.ca
 

The Information Flood

Too much to do? Ditch the laptop.


 

I’m done with school for the year, but my work load is just as heavy as it ever was. At home, with no obligations and the internet at my fingertips, I find myself sucked into its murky depths for hours on end; reading about the dramatic British election, the publishing executive who provided the basis for Sex and the City’s Mr. Big (a guilty pleasure), an inspiring commencement address by Steve Jobs, the incredible speed and efficiency of the FBI in tracking down amateur terrorists, Iran’s nuclear antics… the list time-consumingly stretches on.

Then there are the psychology magazines I bought for my flight home but haven’t gotten around to reading yet, the stack of philosophy books and novels I’d like to get around to this summer, a foreign language to maintain and another to learn, a musical instrument to re-familiarize myself with, daily news to keep up with internationally, domestically, locally, friends and family to see, and so on. Of course, these tasks are joyously low-burden compared to the high pressure workload of university, but they demand time and energy nonetheless. On a micro scale, these incessant distractions are indicative of the information flood.

The above link is to a special report in The Economist, which examines the explosion of data creation in the age of cheap cell phones and cameras producing mountains of information alongside massive telescopes and Large Hadron Colliders, which alone creates 40,000 gigabytes of data each second. All that data creation far outpaces our ability to store it, let alone classify and analyze it. The result is a society struggling to keep up: the data management industry is now worth $100 billion and growing at 10 per cent a year; universities from McGill to Berkeley have created dedicated Schools of Information; Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and data scientists are becoming more prominent in business.

This information flood on a societal scale trickles down to the individual too, who, faced with far too much information to take in and too many demands on his time, is forced to somehow choose to focus on that which he finds salient. Once that decision is made, and information is encoded into memory, the task of analysis must begin, sorting through the masses of newly acquired information and identifying trends, patterns, lessons.

The difficulty is of course amplified by the internet, a fact which has led some of my perhaps more intelligent friends to take drastic measures. Realizing that the university’s wireless internet didn’t reach his dorm room, one friend decided to literally cut his ethernet cable in half, forcing himself to go to the library to use the internet and opening up vast swathes of time in which to read books, have face to face conversations, and otherwise focus his time and attention much more effectively. Another friend, who is moving out next year, is leaving his laptop at home altogether, convinced that the benefits to his time and focus are more valuable than the aimless wading through the information flood. If direction and focus is lacking in your own attempts to negotiate the deluge, perhaps such action is indeed worth considering.


 

The Information Flood

  1. Just a side note – McGill’s “School of Information” has been around for a long time. Like other graduate schools in this field (library and information science), it decided to change its name to sound more hip. But information experts have existed for a long time: librarians.