I find myself writing less and less these days. With the amount of workload I had been subjected to lately, most of my writings tend to be in physical format. They are written on notebooks with ink and lead, and usually accompanied by crude drawings to illustrate ideas that words alone can’t describe effectively (my horrible verbals skills take part of the blame). Or else they are so closely related to my current work/thesis that I can’t help but to feel a bit reluctant to share them with the unknown masses of the global network, a source of endless chagrin for me since I consider myself an avid believer in the openscience/science 2.0 future. Of course, then there is the fact that I am getting increasingly worn out by the time I get home which makes it harder for me to stay up like an insomniac manic compulsive and type away musings in the night.
During my recent sojourn through the net I came across an interesting blog post in a random tweet. The post is titled “Enhancing Multitasking to Enhance Our Lives“, and it should resonate with anyone who experienced the effects of the distracting information overload that is so common to people of our generation. The author describes her experience with the occasions of information overload and proposes an interesting system to organize her information based on the ‘tabbing’ system found in most modern web browsers (she focuses on FireFox, however). It is an interesting read and I would recommend it to anyone who uses the net for reasons other than viewing random junk on youtube and facebook, i.e. serious work (not that there’s anything wrong with occasional youtubing or facebook-networking).
The problem of information overload had been around for a disturbingly long time. While the modern world wide web stands out as one of the most important achievement (emergence?) within the information history of humanity, there are recorded cases of respectable figures of society complaining of information overload in 1700’s, citing the emergence of political/philosophical ‘pamphlets’ that were so common in those times. If we still had the proper records I’m sure we would have been able to find some similar parallel in any civilization with a copy-distributable system of information not limited to written language, dating from the age of Sumerians. While the overloading capability of information in this day and age is disturbing, I’m sure we’ll be able to find a decent method of organization and concentration through all that mess just as we have done so for thousands of years… There are already quite a number of strides being made in that regard, like the integration of AI-like systems of increasing accuracy and sophistication, and smaller scale community based toolset proposals like the one made in the aforementioned blogpost (as for the web browser project for helping concentration in face of massive amount of information, I’m placing my bets on Google Chrome-based Academic research browser… I believe there are already a number of webkit based research oriented browsers on the OS X platform).
The real problem of such abundance of information might be the social implications of the breadth-first approach to the information lacking introspection and patience. The world at large is already quite a problematic place with massive disenfranchisement of certain sectors of the general human populace from the fruits of human civilization. Access to superficial information without any depth might as well work to exacerbate the discontent of the population at disadvantage… While there are plenty of legitimate reasons for people to be discontent with their situation, lack of understanding as to the true cause of their condition will commingle legitimate discontent with perceived fantasy… At that stage any well-mannered group of concerned citizens might as well turn into a group of frenzied mob, turning their anger towards certain generalized group of people/culture/circumstances as was frequently observed throughout the course of human history. Of course, I am running a sort of generalized simulation, but it is true that proliferation of knowledge without depth can be destabilizing to the society at large.
Neal Stephenson’s recent book, Anathem, also talks about the possible dangers and discomforts of the information overload. Those of you who like nine hundred pages of science fiction and philosophizing might want to pick it up. Personally I enjoyed it very much, and might put up a review sometime soon.