Technologist Clay Shirky argues that information overload isn’t the problem tech journalism makes it out to be: it’s really a failure of information filters. At the Web 2.0 Expo last week, Shirky said that the internet has made it easier and cheaper for publishers to broadcast information—so now the onus is on the consumer to filter out the noise (much like client-side spam filters). Hit the play button after the jump to hear Shirky’s well-argued points.
Running a web site that pumps out almost 20 posts a day about how to be more productive, we’re already aware of the irony of technology that tries to fix the problems that technology presents. The New York Times gets hip to the Catch-22 in an article today on the firms and software applications out to stem the tide of information overload that this field has created: “There’s a competitive advantage of figuring out how to address this problem,” [IBM researcher John]Tang said. He said that there was “a certain amount of irony” in the fact that the solutions are coming from the very companies that built the digital systems in the first place.
Philipp Lenssen, who’s normally blogging about Google products and developments, sent a single question to workers at some of the country’s top tech firms on how they deal with all the email, feeds, voicemail, and other clatter clamoring for their attention. The answers are informative and, in some cases, pretty surprising. Elinor Mills, reporter at CNET, talks about her reasonable “triage” approach: I scan email and see what needs immediate attention, set aside things that can wait and then go back to them in order of importance, hoping that none of them expires in the meantime … I scan the RSS and iGoogle headlines several times a day. It is overwhelming the amount of information that gets thrust at you every day all day, especially in the daily news business. I also make a lot of lists of ideas to pursue and stories I’m working on to try to stay on top of it.
Blogger Steve Rubel discusses his methods for mitigating the Attention Crash caused by modern information overload while remaining well-informed. In the midst of all the demands new technology and information place on our lives, Steve keeps up by making unusable time usable. I read a ton. However, I have mastered how to stuff it into pockets of time that are normally “unusable.” I get through about one business book a week by listening to them when I commute, travel and run errands. In addition, I use Instapaper.com (more) to bookmark articles I want to read.
I doubt Rubel is the only one to listen to a book on his commute, so let’s hear how you take advantage of unusable time in the comments. Three Ways to Mitigate the Attention Crash, Yet Still Feel Informed [Micro Persuasion]
Technologist Alexander van Elsas says that the problems a lot of new services and web applications solve are specific to a certain kind of super-techie user. He writes: How many people do you know outside your tech community that want to have 25 desktop applications live, running Firefox alongside with 10 tabs open, twittering 100 times a day, reading and commenting articles on FriendFeed, writing a blog post about it, starting riots to get traffic going, AND still have a normal day job and a life after that? I don’t know anyone that fancies that kind of life.
It’s a strong argument that services like Twitter or FriendFeed solve problems only a select few have—too many social networks, no time to blog, email overload, etc. Are front-line, super-connected techies harbingers of what’s to come for mainstream folks, or are we nerds just making solutions to solve problems created by our own solutions? Photo by jonrawlinson.
Blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick offers seven tips for making the most of your RSS reader, including a few unconventional ideas about feed volume. Kirkpatrick writes: I’m a big believer in subscribing to anything that looks of interest. Read what you can and don’t worry about the rest. The chances that you’ll see something worthwhile in a feed are far, far higher if you’ve subscribed to it than they would have been if you hadn’t… I don’t know why people feel obligated to read every item in every feed they’ve subscribed to. Get over that and you’ll already be a far happier person.
It may run counter to our common suggestion that you prune your feed subscriptions, but if you’re willing to let go of the urge to read every single item, you could find yourself surrounded by wonderful content. Seven Tips for Making the Most of Your RSS Reader [ReadWriteWeb]
Best-selling author Tim Ferriss offers digital minimalism tips to reduce the amount of time you spend in your email inbox.
Investment bankers aren’t known for their impulse control. Several global firms in Zurich don’t allow their bankers to check email more than twice per day. The reason is simple: the more they check email, the more compelled they feel to send email. Technologist Robert Scoble has said that for each email he sends, he gets 1.75 to 2 messages in return. This phenomenon highlights the unscalable nature of most time-management approaches: striving to do more just produces increasingly more to do.
With an overwhelming amount of information you read online everyday, how do you keep it all inside? Perhaps you need to really focus on what’s important. Trim down the fat. Ignore the unimportant parts. To keep what you’ve read in lasting memory, implement what you have learned—more than once. Allocate your most productive time to reading to give your full attention to learning what’s in print. Acknowledge visual cues, such as bold text, as they highlight the more important parts of the articles. Take notes on articles that you feel are most important, and then read, recite, and review all at the same time. If you need to refer to the material later, make sure to bookmark the page so that it’s easily accessible when you need it next. How do you absorb everything you’ve read online? Share your best tactics in the comments. 10 Tips to Retain More of What You Read Online [Vandelay Website Design]
Blogger Todd Wilkens is waging a personal war against laptops and BlackBerries in office meetings, and says you shouldn’t be afraid to lay down the law. Someone has to be the one to stand up to the social pressure. It can be an uncomfortable prospect but it is necessary. Luckily, you’ll find that many people secretly want to have the excuse to disconnect and focus. They just don’t want to take the risk of making people upset. Don’t be afraid to make people a little uncomfortable in the name of productivity.
He has some great suggestions for how to overcome protests, like building breaks in long meetings so folks don’t feel uncomfortable being offline for hours, and reminding clients that they’re paying you to watch them check their email. Heh.My personal war against Crackberry [Adaptive Path via 43F]
To make his web site feed subscriptions more manageable, blogger Matt Wood organises them not by topic, but by how much he can stand to miss ‘em. So instead of categories like “Sports” or “Blogs,” he uses folder names that range from “Can’t Miss” to “Skip ‘Em” (feeds he only reads when he has time). The folder names are different, but I use the same system because it gives you permission to hit “Mark all as read” more often and with less guilt. How do you organise your feeds? Let us know in the comments.Sink or Swim: Managing RSS Feeds with Better Groups [43 Folders]