Information Overload, or just poorly designed information?

 We have all heard the plea about how modernity has deluged us with information, and have read the articles about how today we are bombarded with more information than ever before.
It evokes images of a simpler time, a time where information arrived at a leisurely pace.

I think that the image is dead wrong

For one thing, it ignores what and who we are, and where we came from – and only counts artificial information as information.
Picture yourself a hundred thousand years ago standing on the African savannah – no TV to be sure, no billboards, no TV Evangelists, no Viagra ads, no neon signs, no spam email, and no junk in your mailbox.
The bush is dead quiet, nothing stirring, all is peaceful – right?

Well no, not even close.

There would be a cacophony of sounds, movement all around, smells in abundance, and sensations flooding in from every square centimetre of your skin. Light and shadow, heat from the sun, the breeze, things buzzing, flying, crawling, hooting, rustling, creeping, galloping, even things landing on you, crawling on you – All mingled in an absolute deluge of sensory information.
A brain the size of an orange would probably process all that with ease, and we have a gigantic brain*

We are kitted out with information processing equipment that makes the largest computer look like a wobbly abacus with a few strings missing – in around 2000 the comparison was that a single human brain had the equivalent processing power of all the world’s computers put together. The most complex thing in the universe, and an organ that eats up the lion’s share of energy in your body.

So what’s the deal with “Infoglut” and “Information Overload” ?

My argument is that it isn’t the amount of information, or even the rate of change that is a problem – a person living in the Amazonian jungle gets information change at a far higher rate than a stockbroker, but that it is an issue of fit or Informational Ergonomics.
Information that fits our evolved processing capabilities is dealt with with consummate ease, but information that poorly matches our innate processing profile is a problem.
The time and effort required to decode and assimilate a poorly designed chunk of information is a problem.

Present us with loads of badly composed artificial information and we quickly saturate and our performance degrades steeply – and we exhibit all the natural responses: irritation, anger, stress, avoidance, etc.
The answer to infoglut isn’t to have less information, it is to have better information, where “better” means “information crafted to fit the hand”. The problem is not to reduce information, but to limit the amount that is high in unnecessary decoding and processing costs.

Information Ergonomics, not information reduction! – make the information fit the human, not the other way around.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it!

Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web at http://au.linkedin.com/in/mloxton

*Our brains are way bigger than they should be given our body size, and there are strong arguments that the cause of the oversize brain is the complexity of social signalling and decoding and tracking social interactions with other humans doing exactly the same thing.

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