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The problem is not information overload, but how to deal with it

“El reto tecnológico mas importante es como tratar tal cantidad de informacion: encontrar puntos, unir esos puntos y entender esos puntos. Ese es el problema.”

Eric Hasseltine Director Investigacion de la NSA 2002-2005 (National Security Agency)

A balanced combination of science, philosophy, and  mankind´s natural selective skills and capacities will eventually bring forth a definite solution/method to deal with information overload. Education must play a essential role in order to prepare future generations for a world in which not “just” ALL information imaginable will be at a mouse-click distance, but PRECISELY the information needed.

Information overload, a term popularized by  Alvin Toffler in his work Future shock  1970, is not a recent phenomenon. As Greek philosopher Seneca claimed 2000 years ago,  “the abundance of books is distracting”. From the late15th C onwards, the spread of the printing press brought an unprecedented avalanche of books into the market, which sparked the Renaissance. Humanist Erasmus in the sixteenth century wondered if there was anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books. Interestingly, in order to help the somewhat disoriented reading audience, along with explosion of books came a renewal of tools and techniques for information management to catalogue, index and classify titles and content of a growing number of published works.

In the Information Era, knowledge is stored on the web (in the form of books, encyclopaedias, social networks, news sites, research communities, academic journals) and can be “easily”  accessed online. However, in the words of Ann Blair, “we still need to select, summarize, and sort, and ultimately need human judgment and attention to guide the process”, wich means that we still have the same old problem: how do we efficiently filter/select the piece of information we need without getting lost in the vastness of the web? In fact, according to Clay Shirky, “thinking about information overload isn’t accurately describing the problem; thinking about filter failure isData scientists are developping new programmes and more sophisticated software and tools for information management  in order to achieve maximal efficiency and accuracy in the filter process. As Eric Hasseltine claims, “en el futuro, depurando el software, y junto con un poder informático suficiente, los clasificadores podrían reducir potencialmente las montañas de información que los analistas deben examinar. …pero eso puede tardar decadas”.

However, the future of information management does not entirely depend on scientific advances in the field of data mangement and data mining: philosophy does  also play a role in the quest for a solution to the information “overload” management problem. According to expert in data management Malcolm Chisholm, “everything goes into data. Data management, in turn, has its pedigree in philosophy”.  Through the following arguments, the aforementioned author reflects how the manner in which mankind deals with information is influenced by philosophical concepts and ideas:

1. The theory and practice of definitions, which are a very old part of logic and are the basis of semantics.

2. The rules of normalization, which are derived from logic.

3. The differences between generic (supertype-subtype) and partitive (part-whole) conceptual systems types are yet another set of lessons from philosophy.

4. The principles of logical division and classification, which are used in constructing taxonomies, and go back to Aristotle.

5. The approach of structural decomposition in business analysis, which can be found in Descartes’ Method.

6. The basic vocabulary of data management (e.g., entity, attribute, relationship), which goes back more than two millennia in philosophy.

To conclude, it should be pointed out that the lack  information is obviously negative, but so are the effects of an excess of information. A balanced combination of science, philosophy, and  mankind´s natural selective skills and capacities will eventually bring forth a definite solution/method to deal with information overload. Education must play a essential role in order to prepare future generations for a world in which not “just” ALL information imaginable will be at a mouse-click distance, but PRECISELY the information needed.

References:

* Blair, Ann. (November 28, 2010). Information overload, the early years.Retrieved 2012.05.10 from http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/11/28/information_overload_the_early_years/

* Chisholm, Malcolm. Data management is based on Philosophy, not Science. in Information Management. retrieved 2012.05.08 from  http://www.information-management.com/newsletters/data-scientist-philosophy-Hayek-Collingwood-IAU-10022399-1.html

*Fabrica de espias. In rtve, la noche temática. Retrieved 2012.05.12  from http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/la-noche-tematica/noche-tematica-fabrica-espias/1193839/

*Future shock. In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012.05.10 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Shock

* Meier, J.D.. Information overload is not the problem: its filter failure. Retrieved 2012.05.12 from http://sourcesofinsight.com/information-overload-is-not-the-problem-its-filter-failure/

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