Why I’m Dreading Information Overload Awareness Day

August 10, 2009 at 9:22 am | Posted in Attention Management, communication, Information Work, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments

The inaugural Information Overload Awareness Day is being held on Wednesday (8/12/09).  And I’m dreading it.  That may seem odd since I cover this topic as an industry analyst and any additional attention on my space is a good thing.  Also, I agree that too many people aren’t aware of how far down the slippery slope they’ve gone in terms of being interruptible at all times and trying to follow ever more information sources and communication channels.

The reason I’m dreading this is that most of the material I’ve seen from the folks putting this on overstates the problem while understating the solution.  So on one hand the problem is inflated to encompass insidious damage to our (worded in first-person guru tense) psyche, attention spans, and well-being, not to mention about $1 trillion per year (I dispute this).  And on the other hand the solutions offered up are menial: don’t use “reply all”, try e-mail-free Fridays (yuk), and a smattering of time management and e-etiquette tips.  That’s all fine for individuals (I offer my own personal attention management tips here, and Lifehack.org and 43 folders are full of tips).  But a systemic problem requires a systemic solution.

To their defense, I’m not the target audience for this information.  As it says in the title, the point of the day is “awareness”.  To make people aware it helps to shake people awake with a narrative tying the rise of communication technology to ADD to the broad arc of information work.  I’ve given that presentation myself and, I’ll be honest, it’s rewarding to do!  I got a very good response too, but after seeing many others do the same thing I realized it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

So I’m already aware.  In fact, I’ve become a connoisseur of info overload articles, books, and presentations.  I feel like a movie critic who has seen every fish-out-of-water, buddy cop movie, making him disgruntled when a new release rehashes the cliche without offering anything new (even though the audience consists of people who are seeing the cliche for the first time and like it). 

The tough part is not putting on a day where you raise awareness of information overload, but figuring out what to do the day after.  That’s the day when the evangelical zeal wears off and you try describing this to your co-workers, many of whom honestly don’t feel that overloaded most of the time.  You can make a few personal behavioral changes and convince some others to do the same, but they have little impact and wear off soon.  And then you catch yourself interrupting people because you actually need to and they “tsk tsk” you saying it was unnecessary to them.  Then you find that of the 28% of your day that is supposedly wasted, really only a few percent of it can truly be recovered without treating every day like a nine hour sprint. Without any real solutions to survive the information deluge you come off like someone complaining about the weather.  “Bring an umbrella” as the morning show weatherman says over and over ad nauseam.

Enjoy Information Overload Awareness Day if you’re new to the subject, but the next day think about real actions that can be taken.  Think about a systemic solution, like Enterprise Attention Management which describes how to pull important information forward and push less important information back.  EAM avoids the moralizing about what you’re doing to yourself and others and doesn’t require adherents to be converts.  It shifts the focus to enterprise-wide efficiency rather than individual struggle.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.



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  1. Use twitter or identi.ca

    Avoid information overload.

    Avoid using too much of hyped web 2.0 products.

  2. I didn’t know about this event or day but I am assuming you are staying home and not going to attend! Still, it looks like an interesting program from a wide range of speakers… perhaps I will attend and learn something.

  3. You’re right Craig – too much hand wringing and too few solutions. Info overload is a self-made beast. Just because technology throws it at you doesn’t mean that you have to let it stick. What is needed is a simple process and a tool that helps you to record the decisions you make about how you are going to spend your time – then spend your time implementing those decisions. Sure, organize whatever relevant information you need around those decisions, but not to the extent that it precludes you from being effective. If the info is coming at you from external sources, stem the tide by taking ownership – most importantly advising other parties how you wish to be communicated to. If the world is throwing emails at you which you simply never have a chance to respond to then the world will be a lot happier if you tell them that you don’t wish to be communicated to via this medium – knowing that, thereafter, at least they’ll be able to engage you! Personal information overload is merely a red herring masking the fallacy that there is value in all that information. Rubbish! The only information which has value is timely and can be acted upon. The rest is polluting data.

  4. Ed, I will be attending since I want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt that they’ll rise above the “information overload 101” stuff. I’ll be paying partial attention though as I don’t think I can stare at slides and listen to a speaker phone for 5 hours!

  5. […] Information Work, etiquette, interruption science | Leave a Comment So, you’ve survived Information Overload Awareness Day.  Your eyes were opened to the stress, poor decision making, and cold hard cash being […]

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