Information Overload – Part 1 It’s all in your head – really

Are you drowning in information? You are not alone, almost all of us are. But the information is not to blame – we are.

Information overload is a meta societal problem that affects our whole industry. From the personal (we are overwhelmed) to the products we build (we need to teach kids how to avoid it) to marketing (cutting through the noise) it is driving change across our businesses.

DrowningInInfo.jpgMost of us have had the experience of going to a web site to find something and 45 minutes later found ourselves off in some far corner of the internet on a completely unrelated topic. Or maybe you have been unable to empty your email inbox for the last year – or two. You didn’t take your Blackberry on your last vacation did you? You did take a vacation – right?
There is a solution, but it involves stepping outside your comfort zone. This is important to education because the old habits of mind about consuming information that we are passing along to today’s children are hurting their ability to think and act in new and more productive ways. We need to model the change for them.

This is the first in a series of posts that address how we can learn to live with information overload, what it means for instructional products, and how it affects our ability to sell and market effectively.

Our Broken Paradigm

For those of us who came of age before the internet our paradigm of information consumption is built on two assumptions that are no longer true.

1. Information is scarce – This manifested itself in SCANNING – a need to constantly scan the media landscape to find the stuff you needed to know. If you missed information when it passed by it was gone. We learned to read the paper every day, read 3-4 magazines, and watch the news on TV. The more sources of information you had the more likely you were to be well informed.

2. Information is hard to find. This flows from the first assumption and led to HOARDING. If you wanted to have easy access to information you better catch it as it passes by: tear it from the magazine, throw it in a file, put it on a 3×5 card. Finding it later involved a couple of hours of going down to the library, locating it, and copying it or making notes from the source material. Usually it was just too much trouble.

Scanning and hoarding information made sense right up until the mid to late 90’s. Adult learners want just-in-time information. We scanned and hoarded so that information would be on hand when we needed it. I took pride in being an information omnivore.

The Game Has Changed

But with the vast resources of the web at our disposal both assumptions no longer hold and the behaviors have gone from effective survival techniques to threatening our very sanity. Scanning and hoarding in an age of infinite input will make your head and your hard drive explode.

65882_pipsqueak_the_rat.jpgIf we can let all that go we can set ourselves free from the brutal info-treadmill most of us find ourselves on. Information may seem like it is free these days, but the real cost is the time it takes to process and manage it.

Think about that in the context of the resources at our fingertips today. Don’t bother scanning, and don’t gather and hold information close to you. Stop it – just stop it!

In 30 seconds with a good search strategy you can find what you need right when you need it. We need to learn how to ignore what we once thought was important and we need to embrace the idea that we can easily and quickly find whatever information we need whenever we need it. This is a complete paradigm shift.

Next in the series I explore some hands on practical things you can do to start working smarter not harder.

Information Overload Series

Part 1 – It’s all in your head – really

Part 2 – A cure for “a poverty of attention”

Part 3 – 10 Ways to Build Instructional Products For 21st Century Skills

Part 4 – 10 Ideas to For Marketing & Selling In An Age of Infinite Input

Summary – Closing Thoughts and Resources

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One response to “Information Overload – Part 1 It’s all in your head – really”

  1. Lee,
    You hit the nail on the head with this post.

    And this is a paradigm shift many of us struggle to make–we are part of the “paper” generation, so to speak–a generation in which paper proliferated.

    The skills we need to be teaching our students are how to manage the overload.

    You’ve convinced me to clean off my desk of all the paper I’ve been shuffling through!
    I agree–the paradigm in libraries, particularly small ones–has completely changed. We no longer need to clip every article because we can find whatever we need online or in databases. In fact, we can find more than any one person could ever possibly process.

    We’ve gone from an information scarce economy in libraries to an information glut.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.