Information Overload

There’s a useful editorial by Mark Morford on the SFGate website this morning, discussing a subject I’ve thought a great deal about lately, namely information overload. Morford comes at the subject from a particular direction, upon which he pins the acronym “FOMO,” or Fear of Missing Out. By coincidence, John Michael Greer, on his Archdruid Report  website (July 28, 2010 entry) touched on the same subject with a discussion about what information IS. He quotes Gregory Bateson thus: information is “a difference that makes a difference.”

In contemplating the subject of information myself, I came up with the following definition: “Information is guidance.” The hidden implication of that definition is that floods of information are useless unless they inform something, i.e. you gotta have an idea about where you’re going in order for information to be of any use to you. If you’re prone to randomly surfing the web, eyes glazed, sliding down breaking waves of raw data, chances are you’ll find something that catches your eye here and there, and you’ll while away hours tripping through a maze of links leading to who-knows-where. Before you know it, it’s dinnertime, you’re exhausted by the flood, and, after dinner can hardly muster the energy to watch a movie, much less to spend a couple hours reading a book.

Twitter and Facebook are probably the worst tweakers of Morford’s FOMO syndrome. Has anyone organized Facebooker’s Anonymous yet? From all I read, it seems like a ripe time for it. Nearly every business site I visit sports a logo somewhere: “Follow us on Facebook.” “Follow us on Twitter.” Thanks, but why should I want to? What will I be missing if I don’t bother?

For a short time Mindport appeared on Facebook. We shut down our Facebook page after a few weeks because nobody wanted to keep thinking up trivial new nothings to post on it. As it stands, our blog postings demand a couple hours of thought and energy from one of us every week or two. I figure, if you’re going to post something, it might as well be something that you put enough energy into to make it worth your reader’s time.

Once I’d defined information as guidance, it clarified my relationship to the Web and alleviated the problem of information overload. You can surf the web out of boredom, looking for diversion. It can provide that for hours at a time, but what are you left with when you’re done? Mostly fatigue. On the other hand, if you go at it with the idea in mind that information is guidance, then ask yourself the obvious question is, “guidance for what?” Or if you ask, “where do I want to be guided?” it lends focus to one’s relationship with the Internet.  In other words, in order not to become a victim of info-blitz, it’s helpful to approach the Web with filters in place, with intention in mind. For me, the process of determining a direction is best accomplished off-line, by paying mindful attention to my own internal workings. That leads to approaching the web in a similar spirit, with a focus on my own center rather than indulging in a diffuse tumble, eyes glazed, over undifferentiated waves of data.

Kevin Jones