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Calculating Information Overload

Friday, December 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira and David Goldes

A year ago, we announced that Information Overload would be the 2008 “Problem-of-the-Year.”  Now that we know that Information Overload costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $900 billion per year, it appears that it will be next year’s problem as well.

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 an ever increasing pace.  It’s not just e-mail, junk mail, text messages, phone calls, and monthly reports anymore.

Information Overload causes markedly lower productivity, diminished comprehension levels, compromised concentration levels, and less innovation.  According to a recent Basex survey, it also causes health problems: 35% of knowledge workers experience work-related back and/or neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, headaches, or stress related symptoms.

One reason the problem continues unchecked is that few people seem to recognize its cost to their organization.  Last week, to help companies understand the extent of their financial exposure, we launched a free, Web-based Information Overload Calculator.  The calculator allows you to calculate the impact of the problem on your own organization.

So far, well over 1000 people, in industries ranging from advertising to zoology, have calculated their exposure.  If you haven’t yet calculated your exposure, please fasten your seatbelt and go to http://www.iocalculator.com.  You’ll be glad you did.

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

A Quick Update from the Information Overload Front

Friday, December 28th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira and David Goldes

Last Wednesday, Basex named Information Overload its 2008 Problem-of-the-Year.  We were hoping to call a bit of attention to the IO problem.  Based on the response thus far, it would appear we succeeded.

The next day, Steve Lohr at the New York Times wrote an article focusing on our news, Is Information Overload a $650 Billion Drag on the Economy?

Yesterday the AP ran a story, Researcher: Info overload costs economy,  which was picked up by a few hundred papers, mostly in the U.S. but also in the U.K. and Australia.  The story was also picked up by business publications such as Forbes and Business Week.

It would appear that we struck a nerve.  As technology has “improved,” our expectations increase.   American novelist Walter Kirn wrote a thoughtful piece in the November issue of The Atlantic, a publication that has engaged thought leaders for 150 years.  In it, Kirn remarks how multitasking is “dumbing us down and driving us crazy.”  He reflects on the cost of unnecessary interruptions: $650 billion, but puts a new spin on the issue, calling the Basex figure “our National Attention Deficit.”  The piece was one man’s odyssey, as he put it “through the nightmare of infinite connectivity.”  But we digress.

The interest was not limited to print media.  CNN, Fox Business News, and NPR all interviewed Jonathan Spira.  A bunch of bloggers have posted their own thoughts on this; one of the better ones is here.

Based on this response it’s fair to say that people are quite interested in the issue.  That is a good thing for everyone.

You can further our research efforts by taking our New Workplace Challenges survey.  Survey takers are eligible to win a Palm Treo 750 smartphone with Windows Mobile 6.

Please take the survey today 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.

In the meantime, best wishes for 2008, a year in which we will continue the fight against Information Overload.

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

Information Overload: The 2008 Problem of the Year

Friday, December 21st, 2007 by Jonathan Spira and David Goldes

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.

From Harriet Held’s Friends

Friday, August 17th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira and David Goldes

Over the past week we learnt how many friends Harriet Held had as we received dozens of notes mourning her loss.  Everyone was as shocked as we were.

We wanted to share with you a few of the comments we received (without attribution and slightly edited to fit this space).

I really cannot express how so sorry I am to hear this.  I was one of the people that Harriet connected with, as you say, and she shared her struggles with me.  Like you, I really expected her to soar past her difficulties.  We’ll be sure to send a donation in her name.  Please give our condolences to all of the Basex family.  We’ll miss her too.
Bests,
xxxxx

I’m saddened to hear about Harriet.  While I’ve never met her in person, we spent multiple hours on the phone over the years.  Mostly the soft-sell but also developing a relationship.  I had expected her to be on the call the other day and when she wasn’t thought that soon I’d get a call.  I’m afraid I’ve been a tough sell over the lean years here but was looking forward to her cheery banter as she tempted and tried to persuade me.  I’m sure it’s a big personal loss for you so please accept my sincere condolences.
Regards,
xxxxx

And an entry on the memorial page:

Harriet’s infectious zest for life and animals were a blessing and lesson for us all.

If you would like to make a donation in Harriet’s memory, please consider the American Cancer Society or the Troubadour Theatre (http://www.troubie.com).  We have established a memorial page that you can visit.

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

Managing Information Overload: 10 Tips for Survival in an Information Age

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Information is the new currency of our society yet workers are drowning in information.  A typical worker gets 200 e-mails, dozens of instant messages, multiple phone calls (office phone and mobile phone), and several text messages, not to mention the vast amount of content that he has to contend with.

Information overload has become a significant problem for companies of all sizes, with some large organizations losing billions of dollars each year in lower productivity and hampered innovation.

It’s not just a case of too much e-mail, too many interruptions, too many projects, and too much content. It’s all these things clashing — sometimes like an orchestra without a conductor.

Basex has been developing strategies for coping with information overload and has prepared ten tips designed to ease the burden. These tips are included in a new report, Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us.

Information Overload is not unlike the game of Tetris, where the goal is to keep the blocks from piling up.  You barely align one and another is ready to take its place.

TEN STEPS TO HELP MANAGE INFORMATION OVERLOAD

E-MAIL
1.)  I will not e-mail someone and then two seconds later follow up with an IM or phone call.

2.)  I will refrain from combining multiple themes and requests in a single e-mail.

3.)  I will make sure that the subject of my e-mail clearly reflects both the topic and urgency of the missive.

4.)  I will read my own e-mails before sending them to make sure they are comprehensible to others.

5.)  I will not overburden colleagues with unnecessary e-mail, especially one word replies such as “Thanks!” or “Great!” and will use “reply to all” only when absolutely necessary.

INSTANT MESSAGING AND PRESENCE AWARENESS

6.)  I will not get impatient when there’s no immediate response to my message.

7.)  I will keep my presence awareness state up-to-date and visible to others so they know whether I’m busy or away.

ALL FORMS OF COMMUNICATION

8.)  I will recognize that the intended recipient of my communications is not a mind-reader and will supply details in my messages accordingly.

9.)  I will recognize that typed words can be misleading in terms of both tone and intent.

10.) I will do whatever I can do to facilitate the transfer and sharing of knowledge.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  David M. Goldes is President and Senior Analyst at Basex.

19XX Milestones

Thursday, December 30th, 1999 by Jonathan Spira and David Goldes

With everyone else paying attention to Y2K, the analysts at The Basex Group have had time to reflect on the great changes which have taken place since 1900, when electricity and telegraphy were first entering the popular consciousness.

In tribute to those years beginning with “19″, we have researched what we decided to name «19XX Milestones» and present these herewith:

1907 – THE VACUUM TUBE. Lee De Forest patented the triode electron tube, and made possible the amplification and detection of radio waves.  He also originated radio news broadcasts in 1916.

1947 – THE TRANSISTOR. Physicists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William B. Shockley invented the transistor, a solid-state amplifier of electrical current which performed electronic functions similar to the vacuum tube in a radio or television, but which was far smaller and consumed much less energy.  The transistor became the foundation for all modern electronic devices, including today’s microchip technology.

1968 – THE CARTERPHONE DECISION. The FCC established the right of telephone company customers to connect their own equipment to the public phone network if the customer-provided equipment would do no harm to the network.  The Carterphone itself was a two-way radio transceiver attaching to a standard telephone via an acoustic coupler.  The Bell System had prohibited the use of this device, leading to the filing of a complaint and the Carterphone decision.

1969 – THE ARPANET. The Department of Defense had commissioned the Arpanet as research into networking.  The first packet over the ur-Internet was sent by Charley Kline at UCLA as he tried to log into a system at SRI.  [The first login attempt resulted in a system crash as the letter G of LOGIN was entered.]

1981 – THE IBM PERSONAL COMPUTER. IBM introduced its personal computer, based on off-the-shelf components, opening up the era for open systems, end-user computing and Microsoft, which supplied the machine’s first disk operating system.

1984 – THE DIVESTITURE OF AT&T. The court-mandated breakup of the Bell System led to a revitalization of the telecommunications industry, in services and equipment, setting the stage for a communications revolution.

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


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