Information Overload: The 2008 Problem of the Year

In December 2003, we named spam e-mail our Product-of-the-Year for 2004, explaining that this was akin to Time magazine’s naming Adolf Hitler Man of the Year in 1938.  Spam, we wrote back then, was “a disruptive force that has had a major impact on almost everyone who uses a computer.”

The Product-of-the-Year designation is meant to recognize technologies that have had a major impact on how we work using information technology – and nothing has had a more profound effect than the disruptive nature of spam.  Until now, that is.

This week we named Information Overload as the 2008 Problem-of-the-Year.

Whether sitting at a desk in the office, in a conference room, in one’s home office, or at a client, the likelihood of being able to complete a task (what many call “work”) without interruption is nil.  Content creation has gone off the charts and new forms of content are being pushed towards us at a rapid pace.  It’s not just e-mail, junk mail, text messages, phone calls, and monthly reports anymore.

Intel, a company with 94,000 employees, sees Information Overload as a serious problem.  “At Intel we estimated the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week,” says Nathan Zeldes, a Principal Engineer focusing on computing productivity issues at Intel.  “We are now looking at applying new work behaviors that can help reduce this impact”.

Shari Lawrence Pfleeger, a senior information scientist at the RAND Corporation, sees Information Overload as an impediment to getting her work done.  “We are more connected than ever, but we must manage not only our connections but also the increasing volumes of information flowing over them.  We continue to sort useful mail from junk mail, but we are additionally stressed by sorting useful phone calls from junk calls, useful email from spam, and in general useful from useless (and even dangerous) information.  To get really important work done, I find it helpful to take a holiday from my connections so that I can focus on the work at hand.”

We believe that 2008 will be the year we begin to solve the problem of information overload in a substantive way.

In conjunction with the Problem-of-the-Year announcement, Basex is announcing a survey on information overload and today’s work environment challenges.  Ironically, the latest office productivity tools designed to increase productivity are often having the opposite effect.

The survey can be found at http://www.basex.com/btwiosurv1 and survey takers are eligible to win a Palm Treo 750 smartphone with Windows Mobile 6.

Please take the survey today (http://www.basex.com/btwiosurv1) and feel free to share this link with colleagues.  The more input we get via the survey, the more we can do to solve the problem of Information Overload together.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  David Goldes is president of Basex.

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