Thoughts From Information Overload Awareness Day 2011

Lower the Overload, send less e-mail

Information Overload Awareness Day (IOAD) continued the dialog I sought to begin three years ago with the first IOAD.

To be candid, for the past few months, I’ve been a bit overloaded as have my colleagues at Basex and we were considering on moving IOAD to December.

We were therefore surprised a few weeks ago when we noticed articles announcing that Information Overload Awareness Day 2011 would be on October 20 once again.  A phone conversation I had with Marsha Egan, who runs the aptly named InBoxDetox.com and has supported IOAD all three years, was enlightening to say the least.  It’s ironic, Marsha pointed out, that we are so overloaded that we couldn’t even turn off IOAD.

I had created IOAD but by year three, it had taken on a life of its own.

To “celebrate” IOAD, I asked knowledge workers around the world to send 10% fewer e-mail messages each day.  E-mail by itself is just one manifestation of Information Overload but it may well be the poster child.  I was pleased to see countless bloggers and journalists pick up the call this year and ask their readers to Lower the Overload by sending fewer electronic missives.

I’ve done a lot of speaking about Information Overload in the past few months and I just returned from Scottsdale, Arizona, where I spoke at a meeting of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection.  The meeting specifically addressed Cybersecurity Through A Behavioral Lens and I was asked to speak about Information Overload.

It was a gratifying talk in part because the Q&A that followed almost didn’t end (it eventually had to end because many of the participants had flown out that same day and were still on east coast time and my keynote followed the dinner hour) and in part because the attendees were some of the leading thinkers in the field.  As it turned out, the behavioral observations my colleagues and I were making about Information Overload had great applicability to cybersecurity issues and the questions and discussion largely centered on building a bridge between the two disciplines.

It turns out that even cybersecurity experts and academicians in this field are not immune to the problems of Information Overload and this group in particular related to the story told to me by Col. Peter Marksteiner of the rogue e-mail that was forwarded and forwarded until it brought down the e-mail servers at Maxwell Air Force Base – during a cybersecurity event there in June 2008.

If you haven’t yet started to Lower the Overload, you can still take stock of your own information habits and take the first step by sending fewer e-mail messages to fewer recipients.  If we all do this, it will make a difference.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

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