There are several paradoxes in the current overload of information showering on us everyday, from twitter to RSS to mail to alerts on discussions we are part of, to news, etc.
– The first paradox is that we feel overwhelmed while for most of it, this information overload’s main culprit is us because we are at the origin of the subscriptions.
– The second is that in a world of information most “senders” have not yet understood the minimum etiquette that consists in not communicating if one has nothing to communicate (my grand mother told me to turn my tongue seven times in my mouth before speaking, the habit is lost even by quite prominent personalities, Twitter just makes them look often ridiculous). This happens with Tweets, with mail, with Blogs (why do so many bloggers feel obliged to write every day or more! Do they really think they have something interesting to share every day? Or do they really mess up quantity with quality?), and with most forums. The mail, after about 20 years of diffusion, is not yet well understood by most users and we all tend to use the CC too extensively. The other social media are more richer than mail and are therefore more potentially intrusive. The future of information overload looks bright.
– The third is more subtle but more profound. Most of the progress in understanding any situation is made via listening, thinking, synthesizing, contributing or acting on the situation. When we suffer from this overload, we may listen well (although it is highly debatable) but can we think? Can we make any sense of these flows? Can we really contribute? Can we act? If not, we all waste our time and we help others lose their time too.
I see at least three implications
– The first one is that these three paradoxes are quite significant for our personal behavior within our communities. As an analogy to this often seen signature on e-mail that says “Preserve the Environment, Do you really need to print this email?” are we able to invent our own etiquette: “Preserve my readers’ time. Do I really need to write and send this?” “ Do I really need to keep that subscription?” “Do I need to keep that friend in my Linkedin or Facebook network while updates or messages from him just bother me?“ We need this etiquette (or even sanity) to cut the volume of flows, to regulate our way to “publish” anything, to force us to shut down the noise for taking the required distance and becoming better contributors.
– The other implication is for our social behavior. Should we remain silent and vote only with our feet i.e. by spamming someone’s mail, by unsubscribing to some RSS feeds or some forum, by terminating “friends”? It is certainly the easy way and the most direct and effective and practical consequence of the above implication, but it is sometimes a bit rude and, in most case, it is not seen by the other party, and therefore not really useful to him. How can I tell this contributor that I am interested in most of what he writes but that he is also polluting my inflows?” … without losing too much of my own time. I have not yet found a solution but at least I would suggest to social networks software to register and inform the members not only of how many friends they have but on how many they lose (because I am sure this will be one of the next phases of social network lives as it is already part of the e mail life or the RSS life). And for those who may realize that they may write too much, I would recommend to use some software like Rypple to survey their readers and their satisfaction about the quantity and quality they perceive….
– The third is one I observe as a growing trend since I created the Boostzone Institute in 2004. Many formerly open discussion forum, where individuals could join freely and discuss using a pseudo, are separating their public site and their private, membership only, community. They are also banning the use of pseudo. As we do. In my view this is the most practical way to advance. This is also why the Boostzone Institute is limited in its membership and most of our events are now closed to a limited number of individuals.