How Much Is Too Much?
Masses of continuously increasing information, so poorly catalogue organized
(or not organized at all) that it is almost impossible to navigate through them
to search or draw any conclusion or meaning. (Business dictionary.com)
The modern world keeps producing more and more information. The glut of information today means more misinformation and disinformation is easily available than ever before in history. Is that an asset or a liability?
In1989 Richard Saul Wurman published his popular book, Information Anxiety. At that time, he reported that “A weekday edition of The New Your Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England.” After describing five immediacy levels of information, Wurman said: “Information anxiety can afflict us at any level and is as likely to result from too much as too little information.”
In a 1993 article * I wrote about “Info-mania”, one of four future neurosis. Info-mania is the idolizing of information; info-maniacs worship facts. At that time, I suggested that craving more information in an Information Society when you are already drowning in it, makes the desire dysfunctional. If we were drowning in information in the 1900s, and suffering from information anxiety and info-mania, what is it now in the age of Information Glut and Big Data?
“The most educated person in the world now has to admit– I shall not say confess—that he or she knows less and less but at least knows less and less about more and more.” Christopher Hichens
It is possible that more information has been accumulated during my lifetime than in all the years before I was born. Today, when you go searching for the answer to a question and your search leads to another question, you know you are into information overload. And because humans prefer certainty (and apparently so does the human brain) this is unsettling. I don’t pretend to have the solution to information glut, or to know how much is too much. I do believe that having so much access to information isn’t always a blessing — not even in disguise.
Information Glut has created a difficult problem for decision makers; it is called the “New Laws of Information”: 1) The information you have is not what you want. 2) The information you want is not what you need. 3) The information you need is not available. We will need to develop new formulas for understanding. Facts won’t be enough. Both knowing and not knowing will have to be accepted and respected. Understanding may become more an art than a science.
* Future Sense, The FUTURIST, September-October 1993, The World Future Society