The other day I was listening to a talk on evidence-based medicine and how to navigate the literature without getting lost in too much information. The speaker went through some of the guidelines to effectively use scientific evidence in the clinical practice and medical research. These guidelines alone constitute information overload it seems, but if you want to try yourself, a starting point can be found at Cambridge university Library.
One of his conclusions that I found particularly interesting, was that to penetrate this massive amount of information, you need to use Sturgeon’s law. This law states that: to avoid information overload, you have to assume that
“Ninety percent of everything is crap”.
I immediately thought of friendfeed, not because there’s a lot of crap there, which there isn’t, not in my crowd anyway, ….not yet… But, because friendfeed is the current spearhead aggregator of information, – information from channels that were already overloaded, like twitter, the blogosphere and web-news.
Here’s a descriptive tweet (on friendfeed) from Berci Mesko some time ago:
“I’m absolutely not worried when I see I have 1500 feed items to read. Am I totally mad?”
A possible solution (using something similar to Sturgeons law) comes from the blog post Why I Stopped Reading Blogs (for a while):
1000+ items. That’s what Google Reader told me I need to read to catch up with my RSS subscriptions. It’s intimidating. My RSS feeds were mocking me. I could see them with sneaky voices “hee hee, you’ll never read me, you don’t have the time. ha ha.” The sad part is, they were right………..
….took a nice long look at the list and asked myself – does this matter to me? Do I even know this person? Will I be worse off without this content in my life? No. No. No.
And doing something like this may help you avoid some dire consequences (from Slaw.ca):
They are numerous studies to suggest that information overload makes us dumber: Persons exposed to excessive amounts of information are less productive, prone to make bad decisions, and risk suffering serious stress-related diseases.
Me on the other hand, I never got to the point where I had 1000+ entries in my reader, I only have three or so blogs there. But, I also follow twitter and friendfeed. And then I’ve got a couple of (three ?, – maybe four ?) science news sites I go through on a semi-daily basis, and in addition I am following feed-networks like The DNA Network, and there’s mail correspondence and of course journals to skim through (and consequently, articles to examine) as well as a couple of books I’d like to read…..
What I do to keep from overloading is simply to click and read only when I have some time to spare. I also very rarely go beyond that first page of friendfeed and seldom look at historic postings on blogs or news sites. I just do not have the time. I have this life I need to live and it keeps getting in the way of the internet and reading in general.
This does however, mean that I am missing out on a hell of a lot and that the timing is essential to the information I get. Thus, although I have tried to optimize the information channels I take in, I am basing my information (knowledge ?) on luck of timing.
I will continue to do so I guess beacuse you just can’t have all the cakes and eat them too. Which basically is Sturgeon’s law, only reformulated, and a comfort to my ignorance.