What We Learnt on Information Overload Awareness Day

Ready, set, lower!

Information Overload Awareness Day was held last Wednesday and several hundred knowledge workers gathered online to learn more about the problem and potential solutions.  In case you weren’t able to attend, here’s a brief summary of what was covered.

To set the stage for what was to come, Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex, addressed the reasons why we now have the problem of Information Overload and what the cost of the problem is to the U.S. economy (estimated at $900 billion annually).

Paul Atchley, associate professor and director of the Cognitive Graduate Program for the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas, explained both why we can’t actually multitask and why attempts at multitasking could be dangerous.

Paul cited the following factors in his talk:
*  Decrease in driving safety while talking on the phone (4 times as dangerous), and texting (2300% more dangerous!).
*  Decreases in productivity and creativity for multitaskers, including a 20-40% decrease in efficiency.
*  A reduction in attention for multitaskers, leading to decreased retention of context for information.
*  Multitasking’s seductive social nature, which appeals to humans’ deepest psychological needs.

Max Christoff, managing director for information technology at Morgan Stanley, brought his extensive experience in fighting Information Overload at the firm to the discussion.  He detailed some of the efforts the firm has undertaken to reduce the problem.  Max outlined the way the firm redesigned the new e-mail message alert system to automatically classify incoming e-mail by priority in order to reduce interruptions caused by the alerts, as well as to provide a more intuitive way to interact with the alerts.  While some workers were lukewarm to the automatic filtering system (they did not quite trust it to capture all important messages), they liked the redesigned interface for managing alerts.

Dan Rasmus, author of Listening to the Future, spoke about Information Overload in terms of three areas:
*  Policies and practices, including the importance of taking personal responsibility for our own information habits and designing our information  environment.
*  How we present information in physical spaces and the effect that has on how it is consumed.
*  The failure of search tools to serve the user when they are designed to maximize advertising.

Nathan Zeldes, president of the Information Overload Research Group and Intel’s former Information Overload czar, spoke about his experiences in bringing the problem to the attention of Intel, as well as his post-Intel efforts to form the Information Overload Research Group.  Over a decade ago, Intel’s own research indicated that its knowledge workers were losing approximately eight hours per week due to Information Overload, a fact that led Nathan to devise and apply a number of solutions starting in 1995.  This led Zeldes into focusing his attention on the problem of Information Overload.  An article about his work at Intel caused others interested in the topic to contact him and these informal contacts eventually led to the creation of IORG.

Oliver Brdiczka from PARC discussed how multitasking is harmful, as well as how technology tools that PARC is developing can help.  He shared with us how PARC is exploring contextual intelligence in applications, and presented two solutions, Meshin, a tool to provide relevant content in an Outlook inbox, and Siri, a mobile personal assistant.

What did everyone think when all was said and done?  Shortly after the event ended, the following comment was e-mailed to us: “I liked the web based format with many short presentations and the possibility to tune in and out according to your areas of interest.  It saved a lot of time and was very anti-Information Overload, so well done!”

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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