Louis Grey had a great post Thursday – Information Streams Accelerating the Attention Crisis – on something a growing number of people I respect are worrying about, like Tom Foremsky, and Hutch Carpenter.
This isn’t the old run-of-the-mill “information overload” issue people have been whinging about since Gutenberg started printing books, or since big honking “mini-computers” started spewing reams of paper reports back in the last century. It’s worse than that, much worse.
We all – or at least most of us – have made the transition from a world where you knew about most of the stuff you had to deal with on a day-to-day basis to a world where you don’t, you just know how to find it online. Hopefully.
And we all have our filter tricks in place – from only paying attention to certain people in Twitter, to using PostRank to filter down the raw flow of posts, to using Flipboard to see what people in our “social graph” consider noteworthy.
You might want to dismiss all this as just ever increasing noise. It’s not. We’re getting a huge growth in “signal” as well – people you want to know, things you need to know and do, stuff that matters to you. And that’s the problem Louis sees:
“Simply put, the total number of personally relevant pieces of content to consume each day is much higher than it was 1 year or 2 years ago, and will likely be 5 to 10 times higher 2 years down the road.
“We need to find ways to handle this deluge.”
Of course, the early adopters – like you and me – are feeling this faster and harder than the rest of the curve. I’ve noticed this year it’s increasingly hard to string together contiguous moments of attention (better known as thinking). That it’s increasingly hard to unplug email, my phone, twitter, IM because I will miss not just stuff I don’t care about, but people I do care about.
One more quote from Louis, because he says it so well:
“For those of us who are digitally connected and active, we are feeling this in acute fashion. Despite improved software tools to help us accomplish tasks, practically all of us feel we are busier than we were last year, and the year prior. We feel there are more tasks that need completing, and that we are actually falling further behind.”
Remember the old story about how Eskimos (Inuits) have 11 words for “snow”? The logic being, since they lived in a place defined by snow, being able to express the subtleties of different kinds of frozen water could make the difference between being safe and being dead.
While that’s an urban legend, the fact is we – early adopters, digital entrepreneurs, whatever you want to call us – don’t have good words to differentiate kinds of online information, tasks, todos, friends. We just keep marching through bigger and bigger drifts of online stuff, trying to get to where we’re going. Meanwhile, something is happening…
So how do you yell “avalanche!” in Inuit? And how are we going to cope with this?