Is Information Overload Yesterday’s News?

June 18th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira
London Gazette

No more headlines for Information Overload?

Information Overload continues to be a costly problem but it also appears to be losing some degree of mindshare.

This is not completely unexpected.  Many such areas – knowledge management comes to mind – go through phases.  At some point, knowledge management was viewed as the savior of the Information Age and at another point, it was seen more as a pariah.

Google Insights, a new tool currently in beta, helped shed some light on where we stand with Information Overload today.

Following a pattern set forth by Thomas Kuhn (albeit for a paradigm shift, not a technology trend) in his groundbreaking work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a revolution occurs in which an anomaly cannot be explained by current theories and the current worldview.  This throws the world into a form of crisis and turmoil and an intellectual battle occurs between the adherents of the old paradigm and the proponents of the new one.

Eventually, the new worldview takes hold.  Kuhn also maintained that the proponents of the new paradigm cannot be those who were adherents of the old one. They simply had to die out and, once that occurred, a new paradigm was firmly in place and the crisis was over.

(A good example of this is the period of turmoil in science as the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview supplanted the Maxwellian electromagnetic paradigm.)

Is a scientific revolution afoot in the world of Information Overload?  That is something that can only be determined in hindsight and not while in the midst of the transition, but there are a few signs that something is changing dramatically.

One way of looking at a worldview on a particular topic today is by analyzing search queries.  In particular, Google’s new Insights search analysis tool provides a visual representation of regional and worldwide interest in a particular search term.  Google Insights shows the relative number of searches on a query, with the number normalized and scaled to a value from 0-100.  It is important to note here that the tool does not provide the exact number of searches, just the relative number.

When I applied Google Insights to the term “Information Overload,” I found something rather unexpected.

Despite the abundance of news articles, books, and technology solutions addressing the problem, the general public’s interest in Information Overload has steadily been in decline since at least 2004 (the first year for which data in Google’s Insights is available).  In 2004, the relative search number for Information Overload was 100 on a 0-100 scale.  The number of searches declined steadily from 2004 to June of 2006, when the search rate leveled out at 20, where it roughly remains today.

A small side note here; if you look in Google Insights for Information Overload without quotes, the top search term that it finds is actually “overload of information.”  When quotes are used (“Information Overload”), the top search becomes “internet information overload” and “definition information overload.”

Globally, Australia is the country most concerned with the problem and leads with the highest search rate at 100, with the U.S. (81), and the U.K. (78) following.  Germany (number seven on the list) seems very unconcerned, with a search rate of only 31.  Within the U.S., Maryland (search rate of 100), the District of Columbia (90), and Washington State (88) are the top three locales where people have  searched on the term Information Overload.  However, when broken down by city, New York is by far the largest source of searches on Information Overload with a search rate of 100.

Contrast this with a trend that has recently garnered much attention, “Big Data.”  If you use the Insights tool to search for both Information Overload and Big Data (in separate searches), things really start to get interesting.

Big Data had been seemingly absent from search queries (hovering at a relative score of roughly three) until around September 2010.  At that point, Big Data jumped from five to 38 by the end of 2011.  Big Data’s search rate continues to grow and currently sits at 100 while Information Overload’s rate has remained essentially unchanged since the spring of 2007, hovering between 20 and 30.

While Google’s Insights tool gives us interesting data, it is limited to presenting relative search queries, not exact search numbers, making any direct comparison difficult.  What is clear is that Big Data is a term that has rapidly gained mindshare over the last few years, while Information Overload has somewhat fallen out of favor.

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

Music and Productivity: All About Context

June 7th, 2012 by Cody Burke

Must find the right song for the task at hand...

Last week Jonathan Spira explored the possibility of music being a distracting influence on knowledge workers. Although there is some truth to that, music is a topic that engenders such passion that getting knowledge workers (or anyone) to give it up would almost surely incite rebellion. A more nuanced approach is to find what works for the specific individual.

Music’s relationship to productivity is extremely complex and varies based on context. Factors such as the specific task being performed, individual preference of the knowledge worker, and the tempo and genre of the music make a huge difference.

To start with, research conducted in 2005 by the University of Windsor in Canada concluded that any increase in productivity from music may be related to the positive feelings that individuals get from that music. Essentially, people who listen to music that they like, feel better about themselves, and thus do better work. Forcing people to listen to music they don’t like, or forcing them to not listen to music at all could have the opposite result. The critical point is that people feel better when they listen to music they like.

The tempo and genre of the music is extremely relevant to any discussion of the impact of music on productivity. In my former career, I was a professional chef. In busy restaurant kitchens, I found it is essential to have fast-paced, aggressive music playing, preferably at loud volumes. Electronic dance music, heavy metal, and hip hop all worked well. The music would set the pace for the cooks and provide just the right amount of distraction that allowed everyone to relax, let muscle memory take over, and fall into a “zone.”

Although the music worked for us, it didn’t always work for others. Frequently, waiters would complain that they found the loud, fast-paced music distracting. Although perhaps this was simply a matter of personal taste, it also is important to consider that they were doing a completely different job – and using a different part of their brains. They had to remember orders, talk to customers, and generally be attentive to other human beings. We cooks needed to put our heads down and dig our way out of a rapidly growing hole by performing practiced, repetitive motions within a tightly knit team, often for hours on end. Different job requirements equal different musical needs.

In my current life as a writer and technology analyst, I work for the most part without music. It helps being in my home office, so I do not have to try to drown out background noise from co-workers, but for the most part I write and think more effectively with only ambient house noise. However, when I am faced with a repetitive task under a deadline, I revert to my cooking days and play mainly electronic dance music, although not as loudly as I used to. I’m getting old, I suppose. The beat sets a nice pace and keeps my brain moving quickly.

Context matters, and there is no one-size fits all answer when pondering how music impacts productivity. Find what works for you and enjoy it.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex. He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

Music: The Great Distraction?

June 1st, 2012 by Jonathan Spira
Vienne State Opera

Is even the Vienna State Opera a distraction?

Recently, I noticed more and more knowledge workers wearing headsets while at their desks. Not just earbuds, but noise-cancelling headsets, the kind you’d expect to see on an airplane (indeed, Bose invented the noise-cancelling headset over 20 years ago specifically for use by pilots).

While some people are simply using the active (or in some cases passive) noise-cancelling feature, most are listening to music.

What choice they make in music will unquestionably impact their productivity.

Years ago, when we planned the first Basex office space large enough to require a PA system and speakers, we also installed a CD-changer (these were pre-MP3 days), which played music in the background.

The type of music was subject to great debate but I insisted on music without any lyrics and without any particularly distracting beat. This translated into classical and jazz and, to be honest, was not a popular decision in the office.

But I had my reasons, the primary one being that listening to music with lyrics is a distraction. We had yet to start our research on distractions and interruptions (the timeframe I am writing about is ca. 1996) but, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know a distraction when I see it.

We actually did some informal tests by playing music from various radio stations and I quizzed some of my colleagues after different types of music had been playing. What I found was quite revealing: favorite songs pretty much caused work to stop, DJ chatter slowed things down, and classical music was soothing.

This is because the lyrics or banter were essentially overloading the brain and it had to work overtime to keep the focus on work versus the music (this is an activity that takes place in the brain’s prefrontal cortex). As we have learnt since then, distractions take a significant toll on workplace productivity and each interruption comes with the penalty of what I named “recovery time,” i.e. the time it takes the knowledge worker to return to the task at hand after the interruption. (For an in-depth discussion of recovery time, the reader is referred to Information Overload – Is there a silver bullet?)

Recently, I read of several studies that took place in Japan on the topic. One linked music with lyrics to lower levels of concentration. Another found that workers without strong feelings about music found music less distracting than those who either really liked or disliked it. A third study, this time in the U.S., found that listening to hip-hop music resulted in a significant reduction of reading-test scores.

So back to the original topic of headphones for a moment. While having a choice in music may be something workers today feel is an entitlement – after all, thanks to the Internet, when it comes to music, the world is your oyster – there may be a significant downside when it comes to productivity depending on what each individual chooses to listen to. (In the interest of fairness, there may be an upside as well but that is beyond the scope of this analysis in which I am focusing on how certain types of music can overtax the brain while knowledge workers are attempting to work.)

As for me, I listen to Radio Swiss Classic on the Internet. Since it’s an Internet-only radio station (run by a major broadcaster, SRG SSR idée Suisse), there are no commercials and no news reports, just a very brief announcement with details on the work being played.

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

Better Innovation Through Chemistry?

May 25th, 2012 by Cody Burke

Prime your mind to see the future

Innovating is hard work. Even just solving day-to-day problems can often be a challenge, particularly when the tasks are complex and time sensitive, or have multiple uncertainties.

To be at our mental best requires multiple factors to come together at just the right time. Just enough sleep, but not too much. Just the right amount of stress to push us, but not to overwhelm us. A quiet work space, but maybe a slight bit of background noise to drown out other distractions. The list goes on and on, and I think we all can agree that when we are faced with a challenging problem, we do not often have the luxury of saying, “Wait, I need to go take a nap, chill out a bit, and get my mind in order.” We live and work in an on-demand, 24/7 state of connectivity and interaction.

At a workshop I attended, hosted by IEA (Idea Engineering Agency), co-founder Araceli Camargo-Kilpatrick presented her research and methods for encouraging innovation. Camargo-Kilpatrick’s approach is via neuroscience, and is heavily rooted in understanding the balance of chemicals in the brain and the impact they have on our mental capabilities.

The premise is not complicated: essentially our most powerful problem solving mechanisms are hidden away in our subconscious, working behind the scenes at their own pace and beyond our direct control. The trick is to understand how to prime one’s mind on a chemical level to increase dopamine (provides feelings of reward and motivation) and oxytocin (lowers stress levels). The theory is that by doing this our brain is more able to relax and tap into its powerful problem solving capabilities. Methods to prime the brain include exercise, music, visualization, and, perhaps most intriguing to me, breaking old patterns and establishing new routines before starting new projects.

Assuming the mind is primed, Camargo-Kilpatrick breaks down innovation into a series of steps, although she cautions that innovation is not a point A to point B process, but more of a spiral of problem solving, adjusting, and questioning. The first step is to explore the environment of the problem being solved. By understanding all the possible factors and the lay of the land, we mentally relax because we have prepared ourselves and will not be surprised by unexpected influences. For example, if the problem is to try to limit distractions in the workplace, then it is necessary to understand every possible distraction, as well as the day-to-day activities and habits of the workers.

The next step is observation, simply asking good questions. Forming a hypothesis or trying to answer the questions at this stage is discouraged, as the questions, at least in the beginning, are likely to be very general and not very helpful. By refining the questions, the problem will become clearer. This leads into Camargo-Kilpatrick’s next two stages, which are to first clearly define the real problem, and then define the parameters. In our example, the real problem may be the incorrect use of tools such as e-mail and instant messenger, and the parameters may be “when doing focused work on a project.” Being open to modifying the problem is critical, as assumptions must be questioned at every step of the process.

After defining the problem and the parameters, the next phase is to analyze the impact of every factor. Understanding the impact of e-mail on distractions, as well as its impact on other areas of work aids in building a model of the environment, which helps to foresee any ripple effects from making changes. For example, if e-mail is only checked twice a day, that would limit time spent in the inbox, but it may lead to an increase in instant messaging, which would in itself be a distraction. Camargo-Kilpatrick represents innovation and problem solving as the equation Y=F(x). The problem being solved is Y, and x is any factor. Thus distractions are a function of e-mail, but they are also a function of instant messenger, phone calls, etc. Only by looking at the whole picture can the problem be effectively addressed.

The combination of putting oneself into the proper frame of mind and using a methodical system to solve problems is not a new or groundbreaking concept. However, the work that Camargo-Kilpatrick is doing by applying neuroscience to find ways to jumpstart innovation is. We have so much knowledge about the world yet seem to understand so little about how we function; this is welcome research and innovation in its own right.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex. He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

In the Knowledge Economy, E-mail Continues to Be Front and Center

May 18th, 2012 by Cody Burke

Up, up, and away?

Just this morning I had a conversation with an executive at a major U.S. bank. She was deploring the fact that all employees had been told that their e-mail databases would be limited to the past six months of messages and that they could go through the older e-mail messages and save specific ones to files if they so desired.

I first wrote about Deleting E-mail, Deleting Knowledge over ten years ago, bemoaning the existence of arbitrary e-mail policies while emphasizing the need to make the knowledge contained in e-mail messages more available, not less.

Clearly, a decade later, some haven’t gotten the message. Frankly, I’m not sure why. Hard drives are bigger, storage is cheaper by several orders of magnitude, and we are using e-mail more than ever as a means of creating, distributing, and storing information.

Combine this with another e-mail problem: non-delivery of e-mail. I’m not talking about an outright delivery failure where the sender is notified. I’m referring to e-mail messages that just disappear.

Recently I had this happen twice, when I dispatched e-mail to colleagues and awaited a reply. From one, I received a phone call and from the other, an e-mail, both plaintively asking when I was going to send my e-mail.

In both cases, I sent a few test e-mail messages and none was received.

I referred both to their respective IT departments and, voilà, the problem was fixed.

In Fixing E-mail, I wrote about the problem that users face after sending an e-mail, namely that it is not really possible to track when the sender does not get a reply from the recipient. When I wrote this, I didn’t contemplate a situation where the e-mail simply disappeared into the ether. But, as I’ve discovered, not getting a reply to an e-mail can indeed be indicative of the fact that the e-mail never reached the intended recipient in the first place.

This is where it gets tricky. We can’t ask each recipient to confirm receipt of a message, nor can we call each recipient and say, “Hey, did you just get my e-mail?”. Knowledge workers are already busy with the e-mail already in their inbox (at the rate of 93 e-mail messages per day, which is what the average knowledge worker receives, this is over 22,000 e-mail messages a year and that number is growing).

So what do I see as potential solutions? On the deletion front, recognizing the value of the knowledge stored in older e-mail by changing policies would be a good first step. On the problem of disappearing e-mail as well as tracking whether a reply to a particular e-mail has been forthcoming, hopefully someone reading this can come up with a tool that will help resolve the issue.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex. He can be reached at jspira@basex.com

Information Overload: Do As I Say, Not As I Do?

May 11th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

Too much e-mail or just enough?

“I don’t really spend that much time on e-mail…” “E-mail sometimes overwhelms my day.”

These two perspectives sound as if they represent two polar extremes in the knowledge workforce, but they actually are coming from the same people.

In a series of surveys and interviews by Basex, over the past year, we found some interesting trends in how knowledge workers are impacted by Information Overload, and what they are doing about it.

But we also found that what the survey respondents tell us in surveys is directly contradicted by what the same people tell us in telephone interviews.

After conducting a series of surveys that reached a total of 1000 knowledge workers at a large North American company, we would like to share with you some initial analysis, as well as out thoughts on some contradictory data we received.

From our surveys, we found that knowledge workers at the company were spending a relatively low amount of time reading, writing, and managing e-mail messages. Specifically, around 50% spent 15-30 minutes reading e-mail and 15-30 minutes writing e-mail. Around 65% also spent 15-30 minutes managing their inboxes. We took the low numbers to be a positive sign in that it didn’t indicate an e-mail-obsessed work culture. Additionally, when specifically asked about sources of Information Overload, very low numbers of respondents felt e-mail was a significant problem.

Surveys are typically one of several parts of our research process, in this case the second part. It was when we got to the third part, one-on-one interviews, that alarm bells started sounding.

Interviewees consistently reported rampant overuse of e-mail in the form of excessive cc’ing and bcc’ing. In addition, the use of attachments in e-mail messages in lieu of using one of the company’s document management platforms was a clear problem.

The contradiction between what knowledge workers reported in the survey and what they said in interviews is intriguing, and may simply be a function of the format. When filling out a survey, answers must fit into the rigid format of the survey, without room for nuance. In an interview, there is more room for conversation that allows for ideas to be expanded.

Knowledge workers were also asked to tell us what methods they used to deal with Information Overload. The top three responses were all very personal actions, meaning actions taken on a personal level that do not necessarily extend to teams or work groups.

The following were the top three techniques that survey respondents reported using when dealing with Information Overload:
1.) Focusing on work and limiting self-interruptions (84.5%).
2.) Use of productivity and time management systems (33.4%).
3.) Using better search techniques (33.1%).
While all three selections are valid ways to address Information Overload, the problem is that some of the most effective methods are more group-based. Those techniques were selected by low numbers of respondents

For example, indicating one’s up-to-date presence information via instant messenger has been found to be an effective way to minimize interruptions when adopted on an organizational level, yet only 14.7% of respondents reported using that technique. Additionally, turning off e-mail notifications is a highly effective method of focusing on work and not constantly checking one’s inbox; however for employees to feel comfortable in doing this, there must be a top-down understanding of expected e-mail response times. Only 12.3% of respondents indicated that they turn off e-mail notifications.

It’s clear that the knowledge workers at this company suffer greatly from Information Overload-related issues. What’s compelling about our findings here is that it’s clear that surveys without significant follow-up via interviews can result in significant underreporting of the problem.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex. He can be reached at jspira@basex.com

Big Data, Big Problems, The Next Big Thing?

May 4th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

So much data to think about...

Slowly but surely, the corporate world is beginning to realize that the amount of information and data it generates is digging the enterprise into a hole.

It’s no surprise that the buzzword for 2012 is “Big Data,” a nebulous term that attempts to define parameters for mammoth stores of data that have become seemingly unmanageable with traditional tools.

We keep building systems that generate voluminous data. These systems include everything from information posted on social media sites, climatological information, digital images (think of the number of camera-equipped smartphones out there today), sales transactions, the list goes on and on.

Between people and machines, over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created daily (a quintillion is a one followed by 18 zeroes, just in case you weren’t sure).

If you check Wikipedia, you’ll learn that Big Data “consists of data sets that grow so large that they become awkward to work with using on-hand database management tools.”

Put more clearly, it’s too much of a good thing and the tools that we have simply aren’t up to the task. However, it seems that potential solutions are cropping up everywhere as is the effort to get the word out on Big Data.

You may not be aware but this is Big Data Week. If you didn’t know, you’re not alone.

Perhaps in anticipation of the festivities, Splunk, a company that offers such solutions and promises to help companies organize, listen to, and make sense of all of the information they have, rose 109% in value on its first day of trading after its IPO last week.

Also last week, perhaps as part of its ramp-up to celebrate Big Data Week, IBM announced plans to acquire Vivisimo, a search company that focuses on the federated discovery of structured and unstructured information.

The funny thing is that Big Data sounds a lot like other ideas and buzzwords we’ve seen come and go over the years. It’s closest to business intelligence and knowledge management but it promises to let you use all of your data, all the time, instead of just a sampling.

Big Data isn’t necessarily a solution, nor is having access to all of your information. Roughly a dozen years ago, the military ran tests of its Force XXI, a tool that would support complete battlefield tracking. What the military didn’t count on was the amount of Information Overload that would result from a system that provides “exquisite situational awareness.” Having more data didn’t do very much for the big brass. It was simply too much to swallow.

Around the same time, I wrote in this space about the problem that knowledge management had (and still has at this time), namely the fact that KM “doesn’t get much play in the general business press, much less attention by CEOs of major multinationals.”

I used Siemens’ CEO Heinrich von Pierer as an example of one of the few who actually did pay attention to KM, something that didn’t surprise me. Indeed, Werner Maly, a member of the Siemens management board, mentioned, in an address at a forum on Idea Management in 1998 in Frankfurt what he explained was not a new saying at Siemens: “If Siemens only knew what Siemens knew.” In a company with 60,000 engineers and scientists, the knowledge and know-how had to be somewhere. Maly asked, point blank: “How do we succeed in connecting that together?”

This is, ladies and gentlemen, what Big Data hopes to accomplish. Of course, it may succeed, but it may also take its place in a long line of attempts to connect knowledge, know-how, and information, an admirable but rather elusive goal.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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

Information Overload – Is there a silver bullet?

April 27th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

A little help please...

There is really one key driver of all of the costs of Information Overload and that’s the phenomenon I discovered early on in my research and which I named Recovery Time.

Recovery Time is the time it takes you to get back to where you were prior to an interruption. I’ve calculated it as being 10-20 times the duration of the interruption so, if you interrupt me for 30 seconds, the recovery time is likely to be 5 minutes or longer.

Take a typical knowledge worker who is interrupted five times in the course of a day. With each interruption lasting on average one minute (some were shorter and some were longer), this knowledge worker will lose an hour at the very least and, more likely, an hour and forty minutes. This translates into as much as $43. Per person. Per day.

Now take the typical 5,000-person division or company and multiply $43 by 5,000. That ($215,000) is the cost of Recovery Time each and every workday at that company.

Recovery Time is the key contributor to the large cost of Information Overload ($997 billion p.a. to the U.S. economy in 2010 according to Basex). Understanding it may very well be the silver bullet we have all been looking for.

Of course, there is some good news in this: every interruption we eliminate has the potential of saving significant amounts of time and money.

For example, for every 100 people we unnecessarily cc on an e-mail, we lose eight manhours as they deal with it in their inbox. Even when spread out over only 100 knowledge workers, the total time is still the same as an entire workday.

All we have to do is start to eliminate a few interruptions each day and we will quickly see positive results.

You might wonder what kind of interruptions I am talking about. They run the gamut from self-interruption (an uncontrollable urge to look at an eBay auction or check whether any new e-mail messages have arrived) to someone knocking at your door or, if you are at home, ringing the bell (with apologies to Paul McCartney and Wings), or someone sending you an e-mail (interruption nr. 1) and two minutes later calling to see if you had received it.

Much of our newfound impatience comes from a society that, in the past three decades, has become increasingly accustomed to instant gratification and therefore cannot wait more than a few minutes to get a reply. In addition, newer workers enter the workforce with a sense of entitlement that is somewhat oversized, in large part due to new parenting and child-rearing techniques that have always put the child first.

We’ll look at that next time.

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

Getting Wise: How is Wisdom Really Acquired?

April 20th, 2012 by Cody Burke

How to wise up?

In my book Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization, I wrote that the three trickiest words in the English language may very well be “information,” “knowledge,” and “wisdom.”

To say that their meanings, as well as the concepts behind them, overlap is a gross understatement.

With respect to the word “wisdom,” I’ve long sought a better understanding of its meaning. The explanation David Goldes and I developed for wisdom over a decade ago was that it was “knowledge with human interpretation added.”

It has long been a stereotype of wisdom that it is something one accumulates as one gets older. A study two years ago by Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo suggested as much. He found that older Americans were wiser than younger ones. A new study by Grossmann, recently published in the journal Psychological Science, follows Grossmann’s investigations in this area in Asia, specifically Japan.

What Grossmann found in Japan is that younger people were almost as wise as their elders.

Grossmann contrasted tests performed on 186 Japanese and 225 Americans. The tests included reading a series of (fictional) newspaper articles, half of which described conflicts between different interest groups (local residents versus a large foreign corporation, for example). The remaining articles were make-believe advice columns where the questions concerned conflict amongst people (such as with one’s spouse, relative, friend, boss, etc.).

Each participant in the study was asked “What do you think will happen after that?” and “Why do you think it will happen this way?”

The responses were analyzed using the five crucial aspects of wise reasoning: namely, a willingness to seek opportunities to resolve conflict; a willingness to search for compromise; the recognition of the limits of personal knowledge; an awareness that more than one perspective on a problem can exist; and the appreciation of the fact that things may get worse before they get better.

Scoring ranged from one to three where one indicated that no consideration was given to the problem in the answer and three indicated a great deal of consideration.

Using a scale from 0 to 100, Dr. Grossmann and his team found that the average intergroup wisdom score at age 25 was 45 and at 75, it was 55. The interpersonal score was 46 at 25 and 50 at 75.

Reading Grossmann’s study didn’t help me refine my definition of wisdom but it was enlightening to see the difference in scores in two very different societies. While his numbers suggest that, at least in Japan, wisdom is not connected to age, it is only one study, albeit a very interesting one.

The fact that wisdom continues to be the source of scientific enquiry, however, does give me hope that we’ll improve our understanding of knowledge and wisdom in this age of Information Overload. As for me, I continue to optimistically assume that I get wiser each and every day, except on those trips I make to Japan every so often.

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

Is Getting More Free Time As Easy as Withdrawing Money from an Automated Teller Machine?

April 13th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

I will use my new free time to go for a walk. Thanks Microsoft!

As part of a publicity stunt for its 4G LTE Windows Phones, Microsoft set up Free-Time Machines (FTMs) across the country.

What exactly is an FTM, I hear you all cry?

Similar to ATMs, the FTMs essentially dispense free time in the form of free grocery deliveries, cleaning and dog-walking services, or support from a personal concierge to random users. A few select FTM users will win a new Windows Phone.

This is being done to emphasize how using a Windows Phone creates, well, more free time.

I had to double-check the date of the news release. Indeed, it was April 9, not April 1 – but you can draw your own conclusions just from the very fact that I had to check.

To underscore the point (if such a thing were possible), the FTMs were staffed by Free-Time Engineers who’d do anything from standing in line for food or theater tickets, or delivering a meal.

The machines were located in New York at Bryant Park and Madison Square Park, in Chicago at John Hancock Plaza and Pioneer Court, and in San Francisco at Union Square.

Microsoft also engaged a few celebrities for this promotion, the purpose being to show how a smartphone (at least for the given celebrity, none of whom I had ever heard of) makes things “fast and easy” thereby saving time, helps you “stay on top of your game” (this was for a sports-related celebrity), and keeps you “connected” to your business (and to your fans, if you happen to have any).

The paradox here is that any phone – including a Windows Phone – is unlikely to have a positive impact on your free time. A well-designed smartphone can allow you to accomplish things you might have otherwise had to do in a less-efficient manner, but so far I truly haven’t come across one that actually gives me free time. If anything, I find that smartphones typically open up a Pandora’s box full of potential time-wasting activities that more than counter any gains I might see. Of course, if Microsoft would add a free time deposit option to their shiny new FTMs, we could surely find a way to withdraw that valuable free time when needed.

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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