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08/18/2011: "Too Much Information"

"Too much information running through my brain/ Too much information, driving me insane"

A few months ago, I proclaimed that the athenaverse was now an "information management blog." In the spirit of that earlier promise, I thought I would share with you my recent struggles to manage my own information.

As I began to write this, I thought about The Police song I linked to at the top of this post. They were one of the first bands I liked when I was a kid back in the '80s. Back then, I just grooved on their music, but now I can appreciate them on a whole other level.

Were The Police being prophetic, or have we been facing this problem for a long time? The only difference is that now there is so much information being produced, so much data being collected it's nearly impossible to make sense of it all.

I've spent the last two years learning all I can about information management. In that time, I was inundated with information from professors and fellow students. From the information I received from them, I went out and acquired more information about the subjects that I was interested in. How much of the material I collected have I read, processed, and put to use? I'm willing to bet the answer is not very much.

In addition, the advent of the modern web browser has not exactly been the best thing for me. I have always been a voracious reader and researcher of topics that are of interest to me. The problem is that I like doing research almost as much as reading and comprehending the materials I have located.

The end result of this has been that I have, as I write this, a Firefox web browser open with three windows open and 50+ tabs open on a variety of subjects. My study was filled to the gills with books on various subjects, tons and tons of magazines and papers that hadn't been sorted, 20-30 library books out, some of which I hadn't opened since I brought them home, and my hard drives (internal and external) are in pretty much the same shape. Everywhere I turned I was literally knocking over piles of stuff in my study. I'm almost out of storage space- physical and virtual.

That is what all this information has become- stuff. Information that is not being used and is not being stored in such a way that it can be easily accessed and used becomes stuff.

And having all this stuff, too much stuff, has been affecting me mentally. If you're researching 10 different topics and you have 20-30 books out of the library and all these PDFs in your download folder, you have all this stuff you have to do now in addition to your daily duties and errands to run and things that pop up. Eventually, you feel like you're never getting around to doing any of the stuff that you want to be doing, and so now the things that interest you and you want to be doing have become stuff too.

I think that it's possible to do more than one thing at once, but is it really worth it? I have heard that multitasking impairs your cognitive abilities in much the same way that drinking does, so why do we hear multitasking being spoken of as a good thing? And why do I want to have that feeling of being overwhelmed and being pulled in 17 different directions at once when I'm not at work? Why should I feel it when I'm at work?

So how did I deal with this problem of my study? I pulled the plug on it- I took everything out of the room and now it is rather bare. The plan is to go through all of the stuff until I have culled it to a reasonable amount of the best books and the most useful papers that are filed. I plan to do the same to my computer's hard drive as well.

I returned almost all of the books to the library and I'm only trying to read one at a time. Isn't that crazy that I have reached the point where I have to remind myself to read one book at a time?

I have taken on too many activities and trying to indulge in too many interests at once. Gluttony was a sin last time I checked and I'm in the midst of trying to pare them down as well.

Trying to keep my study bare has been great- so much so that I almost don't want to put anything back in. The only problem is that I would have to get rid of most of my stuff. Is that a problem? Whatever I keep would reacquire the status of information, which I could then transform into knowledge, and who knows, maybe some of that could attain the status of wisdom.

All I know is that if I'm going to be able to be taken seriously as a thought leader in the information management field (or take myself seriously), I need to exercise some self-discipline around my own information.

The best part is that by going through this process I feel much better. I have also been writing more than I have in a long time because I am engaging in the activities that are most important to me. And you, dear reader, get to share in the benefits of this process!

(2 in a row, 2 of the last 2 days)

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