Tags

, ,

Noah Brier points to a quote by Herbert Simon regarding the potential for information overload:

“What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Many are objecting that the current concern with information overload is, well, overblown.  Noah notes that “I love the abundance. I live on the abundance. Sure, I miss stuff, but I always missed stuff and so did everyone else.”  Matt Ingwalson, commenting on Noah’s post, remarked, “‘How my god, how do you process it all?’ And the answer is, ‘You just adapt. You learn how to decipher what’s important and what’s not and how to focus and refocus on things throughout the day.'”

I don’t think there is actually a big difference between what Simon (who, by the way, won the Nobel, the Turing Award, and was a brilliant theorist of organizations, institutions, and cognition among other things) said and what others are saying in reaction. Simon was simply pointing out (his words were uttered in 1971) the economics behind information consumption. The end of his quote provides a reasonable prescription: “a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

To me, this sounds like he was saying we will need to adapt to the exponential increase in information and find ways to organize the information to better separate signal from noise. How we do that may differ by individual, but it will need to be done. We all organize the information we consume using different tools–RSS feeds being just one example.

The adaptation won’t just happen magically–we take specific steps (if not always consciously) to organize how we consume data. Tyler Cowen’s recent book, Create Your Own Economy, explores this in a really interesting way–through the lens of autism and what one might call autistic cognition.

Advertisements