I’ve scooped before about Ann Blair’s book of pre-modern info-overload — and what was done about. This is a nice short musing about today’s information overload discourse.
The end of this year has seen much handwringing over the stress of information overload: the surging, unending streams, the inexorable decline of longer, more intermittent forms such as blogs, the feeling that our online presence is scattered and unmanageable. This worry spike had me scurrying back to Ann Blair’s terrific history of pre-modern information stress, Too Much to Know. Blair notes how every era has dealt with similar feelings, and how people throughout the ages have come up with different solutions:
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Blair identifies four “S’s of text management” from the past that we still use today: storing, sorting, selecting, and summarizing. She also notes the history of alternative solutions to information overload that are the equivalent of deleting one’s Twitter account: Descartes and other philosophers, for instance, simply deciding to forget the library so they could start anew. Other to-hell-with-it daydreams proliferated too:
Phi Beta Iota: Information overload represents the failure of society to structure itself for optimal information-sharing and sense-making. What this really means is that society — the world brain — is retarded. It is not able to ingest, process, share, and make sense of all information in all languages all the time. For collective intelligence to achieve its full potential, every human brain must be mobilized and connected and in contant real-time relation. Information technology can help, but is not the answer. The bottom line: only an educated human population can get a grip. The more educated the better.