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Information Overflow

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Originally posted at www.crossmedialab.nl on 19 August 2009

I have been a list member of SocNet for years now and every now and then some posting attracts my attention. Take a look at this recent message from John Maloney:

*****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org *****
Hi –

Here is an invitation and credit for free registration for SocNet for a Webinar on Information Overload


Wikipedia sez A. Toffler coined the term information overload (IO). It is probably valid, just nothing new.

From a practical standpoint, there was, is and always will be IO. That’s not the problem. Rather, the practical issue is something akin to ‘meaning deficit’ or ‘sense scarcity.’ That’s what interferes with positive outcome, not IO.

Humans are sometime incorrectly abstracted as information processors, like some shiny new backplane on the latest server rack. That is ridiculous and harmful. Also long as humans are considered mechanical processors, there will always be overload.

Humans are pattern interpreters. Cyberneticists know this property. Humans possess extremely limited data processing bandwidth, but command an infinite capacity for pattern abstraction and mastery

Sense making and meaning inhabit soc/org/val networks. That’s what makes them so important. It will be interesting to see if the IO people recognize the importance of network analysis and comprehension


P.S. If you ever feel ‘overloaded,’ just turn to your networks for relief!
_____________________________________________________________________ SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social network researchers (http://www.insna.org).

Actually, the posting is an invitation to join a webinar (I assume this is a web seminar) on August 12, 2009. I’m afraid I missed the opportunity due to summer vacation, including the rejuvenating radio silence I had laid upon me deliberately. But still, I guess John and the organizers of the webinar on I.O. – Information Overkill – have a point.
Reopening my mailbox a couple of days ago, I stumbled over hundreds of mails and to be honest, I closed the box as soon as I could. Just reading the mere notification of the number of mails made me realize that summer was not yet over so I faked myself into a state of temporary tabularasa; at that moment I couldn’t give a damn. But that was three days ago and this morning I set myself upon the task of running through all messages that so desperately screamed for my eyes and mind.
Out of the near seven hundred mails (It had been approximately five weeks since I had locked my laptop) I distilled an odd fifty that needed attention. Those mails were of personal and professional character. The rest was newsletters, bargains and average rubbish, ergo, information, I once subscribed to in a whim. And at that given moment this morning, it was a fast overkill.

Let’s focus on the passage in John’s mail that says, “Humans are sometime incorrectly abstracted as information processors, like some shiny new backplane on the latest server rack. That is ridiculous and harmful. Also long as humans are considered mechanical processors, there will always be overload”. I am trying to interpret this text. We (humans) are information processors, at least to some people, thus there is I.O. Okay. We process (create, generate?) information. That is true. You may have heard of the 1 – 9 – 90 rule; out of 100% people participating in any given way in social media, 1% actively publishes User Generated Content, 9% responds to it (interacts) and 90% reads (or better, visits the social medium). So, 1% of the participants create (processes) the information overload and 9% responds actively on the overload. As this 9% is actively interacting one may assume that any information overload reasoning does not hinder those people. Remains the 90%. They come and visit the information carrier, the website. These visits are voluntarily, one may assume.
So far, so good. I have been talking about one social medium. What if we multiply this with all media we encounter during the cause of a day? Can we talk of I.O. simply because we have so many encounters? Humans have developed a tool called selective perception. We only see and hear what we find of any interest. All other information we lay aside, sometimes knowing we have been battered with it but not doing anything with it; not processing this information. Sometimes we don’t even remember that we have been sprayed with certain information.

I imagine that the issue of information overkill has little to do with the amount of encounters. There must be something different. In his posting, John says that humans are pattern interpreters and that is where social networks come in. So, we are not the information process geniuses we believe to be, we are the interpreters of patterns (social patterns, I presume) thus making the social media important as we thrive on social patterns. Perhaps that is where the real social value is created for people in participating in social media. Well, at least for 9% of the participants. The 1% processors are a clear given fact to me, the 9% as well. I wonder what goes on the minds of those 90%. Do you think they feel the burden of I.O.?


Written by Kees Winkel

July 28, 2010 at 11:48

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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