The Age of Superfluous Information — Revisited

The Economist’s article, “Too much information: How to cope with data overload,” deals with information overload. (Hat tip Prasanna Viswanathan @prasannavishy for the link.) For a few years I have been concerned about it since I have a very low threshold for information. In 2005, I pondered the matter in a number of blog posts. I realize the irony in writing yet another blog post on information overload, but there you have it. The Economist article underlines my fears.
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Keeping Afloat in a WWW-world

I received an SMS just moments ago: “A thirteen-year old’s day in Surat: school 7 to 2. Daily tuitions 4:30 to 7:30. Saw ICSE standard 8th textbooks. Detailed and depressing. What a state!”

No surprise to me as I have observed the same sort of insanity in the case of the children of friends and family.
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Not the News

I get to watch TV news only occasionally, mostly at airports, hotels and while visiting friends. Today at my friend’s place in Delhi, I woke up to TV news. It was wall-to-wall coverage of Dr Manmohan Singh’s heart surgery and the gunning down of two Pakistani terrorists just outside Delhi.

On the 24-hour news channels, the presenters have to keep talking non-stop about whatever is the breaking news. Naturally, it is humanly not possible to say something meaningful about any event without some time to think about it. So the need to keep talking incessantly about an event which can only be described in a few words results in verbal diarrhea. There is so little content in the story being told that the TV screen has to be filled with all sorts of other items: there are two or three lines of scrolling texts relating to different issues, some totally meaningless video occupying part of the screen, another part of the screen given to some advertisement, etc.
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Infinite Information, Infinite Ignorance

Information, Not Plastics

The world has come a long way since the 1960s when the future was defined by one word – “plastics” – as Mr McGuire advised the young graduate Ben. Now the future is defined by another word and the word is “information.” Plastics was a wonder product of the world of industrial technology which fundamentally transformed the world of objects. Information is the new thing, the product of information technology, which is going to transform the world of ideas. Actually, information is not a “thing” in the usual sense of the term. So it is the new non-thing which defines the new and exciting future.
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Hi-tech Puzzle

I am a big fan of using technology in education. Information and communications technology (ICT) is tailor-made for application in education. What I don’t understand is why some people are going on about the use of “wireless, low-orbiting satellite, fiber-optic” communications in the context of education. Those hi-tech channels are clearly required when the information is dynamic and real-time, such as in the case of market information and sports events. But what does one gain by beaming down static information — say, history or physics content — as opposed to delivering it as a book (if the information is purely text and pictures), as a DVD if it is audio-video-text, or as content on a hard drive (if the content is rich as well as interactive)?
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Reduce your attention deficit

Everything has a cost and this arises from the basic fact that we are mortals. We are given a finite amount of time. Time is the limiting constraint, not money or stuff. The more stuff out there that clamors for our attention, the more acutely we wish “had we but world enough, and time.”[1] Aside from material stuff, we are also drowning in information. They call it the “attention economy.”[2] The result of a surfeit of things to attend to is the premium on attention.
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Wide Area Content and Narrow Area Content

The total volume of information available in the world is unbelievably large and is increasing exponentially. Much of this information is becoming available on the world wide web. I refer to this subset as the WAC, or “Wide Area Content.” WAC includes everything from journals on quantum physics to home videos on YouTube, and everything in between. One just has to do a Google search to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the information available at the click of a mouse.
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A Sunny Pleasure Dome with Caves of Ice

At the risk of being branded a Luddite, I maintain that the world wide web is the single most distracting thing ever invented by humans. The internet is immensely useful for practical matters of course but aside from its utilitarian functions, it is also capable of providing a device for pure play. It can be, in the hands of an appropriately interested and educated human, a virtually (sic) inexhaustible source of joy, the intellectual equivalent of Kubla Khan’s “miracle of rare device, a sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice.” Continue reading