More on “Information Overload”

A very well-written and thought out piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education today about “Information Overload” (IO) suggests that we turn off our screens every once in a while (as much as once a week) to secure our sanity and our social lives. I must admit I agree with most of what the article discusses even though I still believe that IO is a myth. I still think IO is getting confused with Information Anxiety:

“Mr. Levy, a professor at the University of Washington’s Information School, is one of many scholars trying to raise awareness of the negative impact of communication technologies on people’s lives and work. They say the quality of research and teaching at colleges is at risk unless scholars develop strategies for better managing information, and for making time for extensive reading and contemplation.”

Strategies here implies some sort of anxiety level that needs to be conquered. When pursuing my psychology degrees, I was taught to come up with strategies to help clients along the road to an anxiety/depressive free lifestyle. If anything, the feeling of being overwhelmed has caused the anxiety, not the information itself.

The article goes further, however (and this is where I totally agree with the author):

“On the syllabus for his course “What Is Literature?” he tells students not to contact him by e-mail. He says he tries to make sure he is available for one-on-one meetings to respond to any questions — after class, during his office hours, or over coffee. “If they’re in my office,” he says, “I can say to them, ‘How are you liking the course?’ or ‘How are things going?’” And he worries that he would not be able to keep up with a flood of e-mail questions from students who expect an instant response.”

Nothing will ever be better than a F2F meeting (or an V2V chat). This is one of the reasons why I tell colleagues to call me instead of e-mail. I also prefer IM because I can get quick conversations, which don’t require much though, done and not have to remember to answer an e-mail. For those who are waiting on an e-mail from me, you know what I mean. Call me.

My favorite quote from the article comes from Eric Brende, who quit studying at MIT after he became overwhelmed by technology:

“You’re not being disloyal to progress,” he said, “by picking and choosing the kind of technology that best fits your needs.”

Finally someone with good sense. I tell Gary Price this all the time (he likes to quote me – I get tickled whenever he does). Whatever works for you. If e-mail is your thing, fine. If you like IM, fine. If you still enjoy speaking on the phone with colleagues, fine. Phone, IM, and RSS works for me. What technology fits your needs?

The same goes for IO. Pick the amount of information that best fits your life. You have the power to choose how much. Victor Frankl (author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”) is one of my heroes. One of his theories in Logotherapy is that nobody has the power to take away your choice about how you react to any given situation. I think this is why I don’t believe in IO. It’s all about choices… (link via Library Careers)

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