Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Heehee: Information Overload is Like Smoking Lots of Dope

University of London Institute of Psychiatry researchers report that the constant distractions of e-mail and texting on portable devices (such as the Blackberry) make you stupid, even more so than smoking marijuana.

In fact, info overload can drop your IQ by an average of 10 points, double the rate of loss of brainpower in dope smokers.

This finding reminded me of another article, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled Knowing When to Log Off - Wired campuses may be causing 'information overload'.

One excerpt from the article: "There's the real danger that one is absorbing and responding to bursts of information, rather than having time to think," says Mr. [Bill] McKibben, author of Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (Times Books, 2003). "What's only gradually becoming clear is not just a pragmatic drawback but an intellectual drawback to having so many trees that there's no possibility of seeing the forest."

Not everyone buys into the "information overload" meme, however, as this recent article from Random Access Mazar shows:

"Technology doesn't prevent us from doing anything. If we feel pressure to respond to email or to be on IM or to keep track of every minute change in the news or in our professions, that's a sociological issue, not a technological issue. Why are we feeling that pressure? Is this the fault of the unrealistic expectations of the people around us? Are these are our own expectations of ourselves? Does playing with email and IM make us feel that we're doing something useful when we're actually not? Isn't this often just a matter of being lazy and wanting to blame something other than themselves for our lack of advancement?"

Steven Cohen, on Library Stuff, chimed in with his two cents:

"If it's important enough, I'll see it. My fellow bloggers will link to it. Someone will send me an IM or an e-mail (yes, I still read e-mail). Somehow, the information will get to me. So, no, I don't have to read everything to stay current on what interests me. I'll use the power of my social network to help."

I'm kind of in-between on the issue. I think the pressure to cover everything is there, and the expectation in many workplaces seems to be that you will always be connected and that you can therefore process increasing tidal waves of information. So information overload is a real threat.

On the other hand, if you have built up a good network, as Cohen argues, there are ways to cover your butt.

By the way, since Monday, I deleted 222 e-mails. Then there are the e-mails I had to save for later reading, and the e-mails I knew were important enough to respond to.


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posted by Michel-Adrien at 9:07 pm


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