in Digital Web

Sorting through the mess of information

Story today in the NY Times, talking about the digital age and how we’ve got more information than we literally know what to do with…at our fingertips.

And there is just too much information. We can have thousands of people sending us suggestions each day — some useful, some not. We have to read them, sort them and act upon them.

As we pay for them with our time, the human need for surprise presents an opportunity for new businesses. Can someone sort the information and provide the relevant thoughts to the specific person who doesn’t yet know he needs it? Facebook is providing some tools to subdivide friend lists, so posts from the cat-video coterie won’t interfere when you’re jousting with political-news fanatics.

So the question is, are we learning more? Or are we paying attention less? We’re not going back to the Dark Ages anytime soon, so it’s no longer a question of whether or not it’s acceptable. I think instead, we have to look at what we have at our disposal in terms of social tools and other mediums and recognize that there’s still much work to do be done. So much to say and yet, the lowered cost of sending a message means it can be easier for people to waste our times with useless garbage. Those little minutes start to add up.

What we’ll do with them, will determine how the next year shape up. But it’ll also determine who we talk to, how much we communicate with those individuals and how much time we’ll be able to devote to devoting our time to the things that we once found meaningful that often get swallowed up in a digital world — simple pleasures like listening to records, writing letters or :gasp: face-to-face conversations — can often be lost in a world where we need to know quick fast and in a hurry.

Every tweet, every text and even the times we call, can seem so innocuous that we hardly recognize the intrusiveness of someone interrupting things that used to be uninterrupted like grocery shopping or road trips to far flung places. It changes the way we interact with each other.

So what’ll it be? Will an entire industry crop up around information sorting? Or will we learn to get better at parsing what’s important and what’s not?

  1. Great post, Ron. I had a conversation with someone about this last week, complaining about how poor our filtering tools are for the mass of information to which we’re exposed. And even as tools get better, getting them to the point where they are good enough for me is going to be very difficult.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Andy. It might be time for me to reread my copy of “Here Comes Everybody.” I appreciated what he was saying, loaned it to a friend just as I finished it and I think I need another dose of it.

  3. As usual, Ron, good topic and good commentary. Thanks.

    I mentioned recently (in a blog post that was part of all the noise you and the Times author are pondering) Clay Shirky’s take on this problem. Instead of “sorting” he talks about “filtering.” I thought of this the other day while taking in the snail mail at my house. About 80% of it can be junk mail, personalized or not, that I don’t open or even consider at all. It goes straight into the recycling. I don’t open each envelope and compare offers for products I don’t want, or services I won’t purchase. I just decide “this is junk!” and toss it, based on some unscientific but fairly accurate filtering algorithm that accounts for envelope size and shape, personalization, return address (or lack of one), bulk rate-ness, etc.

    We’re just at the very beginning of learning how to filter (sort?) the barrage that comes electronically, and yes it’s different – if only because even after self-selecting for friendness of the sender we are still inundated with crap. I love my very best real-life friends dearly, but I don’t ever want to know what pizza topping they are according to a Facebook quiz. The filters and sorting will improve over time. We’re just at the beginning.

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