Have you ever considered how technologically inefficient you are throughout the day? Everyone suffers from information overload. A phenomenon whose impact results in wasted time, increased stress levels and decreased productivity. The cause is overloading our brain with more input than it can process. Luckily, the societal issues this overload has led to are far from insurmountable. Knowledge is power. Before knowledge comes information and before information, there is data. Big, juicy, poorly maintained, ever expanding, data.
Examining data in different ways will bring about new information. Turning that into knowledge is the solution that can get us past these technological hurdles. The problem we face is compounded by the fact that most of what we are getting inundated with every day is not knowledge. Because technology as a commodity has been driven by entertainment, we are inundated with a lot of junk. Pointless television shows, radio, a massive amount of news and social updates, etc. We need to organize what we have, what we want and how it is presented to us.
Daniel Levitin is the author of “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload” and a McGill University psychology professor. One estimation he discusses is that in the last 10 years, more information has been created than in all of human history before that. Without proper planning and execution, the data we start with gets spoiled. Misinterpreting the knowledge we thought we had and reinforcing another adage; garbage in, garbage out. There is an ever-evolving mass of information available to us. It is no surprise that our human efforts to keep up fall short.
Since late1960’s, the technology industry has been steered by Moore’s Law. It has made computers more powerful and more affordable, expanding access at an expeditious pace. The rapid innovation has given us the ability to create multiple types of information systems.
Examples include data warehouses, search engines, geographic information systems and office automation. We have become addicted to the connectivity this has made way for. The media alerts coming in, from a variety of formats, increase dopamine levels and keeps us unknowingly coming back for more. The components of any information system include hardware, software, data, procedures, people and feedback. How individuals are being impacted by all this is a crucial, and often misunderstood, component.
The flood of technology we have been hit with has influenced social change. Our work lives are now home with us. It blurs the lines that used to separate societal roles. Can you remember a time when businesses communicated via fax machine, mail filtered through a physical office and the thought of keeping pace with everyone else’s time-zone was unheard of? From personal and social relationships to the advent of multinational corporations, the fabric of our lives is changing.
Looking at the history of language and then written word helps put this circumstance into perspective. Starting with runes and storytelling, the transfer of knowledge has been pivotal to development of the human race. In 1450, the first printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg. Books were a luxury. By the 1780’s, Thomas Jefferson’s personal library was so vast, that it would later become the base collection for the United States’ Library of Congress. At that point in time, he was able to house a majority of the world’s knowledge within four walls. This feat would be impossible in today’s day and age. Since the 1950’s, publishers have slowly been replacing print with digital data. Technology has given the common man enormous opportunity, correlating to the growing mass of information we are now required to sift through.
The amount of information that individuals create and consume is growing exponentially. We are struggling to keep up with a breakneck pace. The stress this causes attacks our bodies and minds. Chronic disease has also been on the rise. It is not a stretch to say our use, or misuse, of technology negatively impacts our entire wellbeing. Everyone has a vested interest in solving the technology problems that surround us daily. When you take into account the opportunity this creates, the horizon looks bright. Increased information literacy is needed at every level to turn technology from a driver to a tool.
Librarians have long been guardians of information. They understand how to assess validity and weed out unreliable sources. Their ability to create comprehensive, unbiased collections of information is a highly refined skill. There is no intermediary to help us with these tasks now that we turn to our iPhones and search engines instead of a library to search for our information needs. The third party has been removed. To make matters more complex, information is no longer static, it is constantly being updated.
However, the job is easier when these end users do not care about what privacy terms and conditions actually say.
Maturing how we are accessing information can help address the issues that arise with for profit technology companies. Librarians are evolving. The term “librarian” no longer reflects the segment of the world’s workforce that holds a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Basic coursework typically covers organizing information, research methods and strategies, online reference systems, and internet search methods. Given these skills, “information professional” is now the most common title used to describe an MLS graduate.
Knowledge Management and Competitive Intelligence are two branches of Library Science that have emerged beyond the confines of a physical library. The profession as a whole can help navigate the muddy waters of information literacy. Innovation is now needed in the way users access information. A step beyond gaining access in the first place.
In the meantime, we have Google. In 2015, they restructured and created Alphabet, a conglomerate to segregate their various business ventures. This includes experimental companies involved in life sciences, web browsing records, investment capital and research. Alphabet states one reason for the organizational changes was to increase accountability. At present, the group’s website has two links: one to expand a somewhat generic letter from Larry Page and another for investor reporting. Alphabet brought in revenues of $26 billion in the second quarter of 2017. The bigger it gets, the easier it is for the company to pay fines to governments (as Google was recently required to by the European Commission) for breaking the law instead of actually abiding by it.
A big part of the technology industry’s revenue right now comes from ongoing momentum in mobile search and YouTube. Users have a collective power in how these companies operate, whether they want to take ownership of it or not. The conspicuous consumption of the “containers” for our information, like iPhones and computers, are being used as a status symbol. This results in more revenue for the companies creating these gadgets. The world wants to be connected even if it results in information overload.
Access has been obtained for a significant percent of the population. An individual’s willingness to disconnect from this technology comes into play when we discuss the impact it will have on their lives. Turning off push notifications for things like email on your phone and computer can help a person to keep focused during routine tasks. Levitin recommends working to clear your mind, clumping similar tasks together, and giving up on trying to multitask. There is software like “Freedom” that will disconnect its purchaser from the web based on preset times. Xerox also develops some filtering and managing devices.
The issue of implementing these tools to help information overload will always arise. Strategic planning is needed beforehand to analyze how knowledge is transferred and how it flows within the current confines. This will add context and structure to the project, inevitably saving time for anyone involved.
Integrating someone that knows about the transfer and retrieval of information into the core needs of your business tackles the problem of information overload at its base. Some corporations fund inhouse libraries for employees’ access in their pursuit of information. This most certainly expands an individual base of information sources. However, a librarian’s skills in this situation are often called on reactively. After the need has been determined by the user/co-worker. If librarians were engaged in strategic planning an opportunity is created to change the way the entire organization looks at and processes data. Often bringing about an awareness of otherwise unrecognized needs of the company.
Working to proactively involve an information professional to assess goals and determine measurable benchmarks could save a lot of time and money in the long run.