The Tech Industry and Information Overload

Just whom am I supposed to call about all this?

While it’s clear that technology has been an enabler for Information Overload, several questions arise including the extent to which the tech industry is to blame and what the tech industry is doing.  This needs to be examined both in terms of developing new solutions that fight the problem as well as fixing problems in existing tools that encourage more Information Overload.

With every significant development, from Gutenberg’s printing press to Carlson’s photocopier to IBM’s personal computer, mankind found itself able to create and distribute more and more information.  The rapid advances made in information and communication technology in the past two decades have further exacerbated the situation.

Unfortunately, these developments brought with them neither the tools to better filter neither the information that was generated nor the knowledge of how to use the tools in the most responsive manner.

The first time, from what I can tell, that the tech industry acknowledged the problem publicly was in the mid 1990s, when Reuters, a business information provider, decided to exploit the problem by positioning itself as a solution for “Information Fatigue Syndrome,” a term coined not by doctors but by Reuters marketing agency, Firefly. (Firefly won a PR Effectiveness Award for this campaign in 1998.)

Reuters went so far as to hire a psychologist specializing in stress, who then wrote a research report on IFS, to add a measure of gravitas to the campaign.  After receiving a considerable amount of coverage, however, Reuters moved on to the next campaign and forgot all about IFS.

It’s not just the tech industry (which somewhat ironically refers to its customers as “users”) that should shoulder some of the blame, but it should also contribute to the development of a long-term solution.  There is an entire ecosystem built around information, with millions of consultants and information producers, which serves to prove that the knowledge economy is in full swing and that the genie is out of the bottle and won’t return anytime soon.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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