“And a year after that—still a full decade before most people heard the word—a Swedish computer scientist named Jacob Palme at the QZ Computer Center in Stockholm issued a prescient warning—as simple, accurate, and thorough as any that followed in the next decades. Palme began: ‘Electronic mail system can, if used by many people, cause severe information overload problems. The cause of this problem is that it is so easy to send a message to a large number of people, and that systems are often designed to give the sender too much control of the communication process and the receiver too little control…. People get too many messages, which they do not have time to read. This also means that the really important messages are difficult to find in a large flow of less important messages. In the future, when we get larger and larger message systems, and these systems get more and more interconnected, this will be a problem for almost all users of these systems.’ He had statistics from his local network: the average message took 2 minutes, 36 seconds to write and just 28 seconds to read. Which would have been fine, except that people could so easily send many copies of the same message” (Gleick 404)
Gleick describes email as one of the electronic tools in which we use to learn information but at the same time email provides us with almost too much information. As Palme said, email can cause severe information overload problems. In an age where information is so easily obtained, email is just one of the many things that can distract us from our daily lives. Other than that, email is just one of those things that can be taken for granted nowadays. We get so many emails that we mark most of them as spam to disregard all types of information, either for better or for worse. Just as how Gleick compared a piece of filed information to a shelved book, an email is just a personal electronic memo that we choose to file, store, and possibly delete without any second thought.
What was especially interesting to me was that this was all predicted by Palme in the 80’s when most of the general public had not even heard of the word “email” or “electronic mail” and had absolutely no sense of what the implications of having such a system may be. Nevertheless, Palme’s predictions still hold true today as we receive useless “spam” mail from countless sites by the hour, all filtered in some fashion by various digital algorithms. Filtering information out until the perfect balance is achieved is an ongoing challenge and remains crucial to proper information delivery. Without filtering, we may either miss out on key memos or experience “information overload” which has been proven to be ultimately inefficient to the end user. In our modern daily lives, information is so easily accessible that it all must be properly filtered to optimize our productivity and our livelihood.
“Before Eisenstein’s work appeared in 1979, no one had attempted a comprehensive study of printing as the communications revolution essential to the transition from medieval times to modernity. Textbooks, as she noted, tended to slot the printing press somewhere between the Black Death and the discovery of America,” (The Information by James Gleick, 399)
While I was reading through James Gleick’s The Information this passage jumped out at me. After reading through the excerpt which kept talking about how saturated our culture has become with information over the past five hundred years, I came back to this passage. It’s hard to believe that after five hundred years of information overload no one had really wrote about how the printing press and communication gave rise to modern times. This seems to contradict what Gleick is saying, because if we were really over saturated with information would not all views on history, including Eisenstein’s, be available to everyone who is willing to search for it. In order to reach an over saturation of information we would need to assemble every scrap of knowledge, and every single original idea. Although we have reached an age where it is much easier to find and access information about nearly everything, we have not reached this level of information. There are still a great many subjects on which we do not have any information at all. We are still searching for this information, and therefore have room for more. Only after we discover and create all of this information would our lives be truly over saturated. Until then our abundance of information can always be used to learn and create more.
Just as we are no longer astounded by the amount of information kept in books, a time will come when people will not be impressed with the amount of information the internet has to offer. Even now a generation is growing up to whom the internet is quite ordinary and who know how to navigate its vast collection of information. To this population information overload does not exist, they will be able to access information on the internet with ease. At the same time people who did not grow up with the internet are experiencing a very real information overload. There is more information than they are used to at their fingertips and until they will continue to experience information overload until they are able to navigate the immense quantities of information effectively and efficiently. Once this happens this information overload will pass until the next big information technology brings a new overload upon us.
Too much information, and so much of it lost. An unindexed Internet site is in the same limbo as a misshelved library book. This is why the successful and powerful business enterprises of the information economy are built on filtering and searching. Even Wikipedia is a combination of the two: powerful search, mainly driven by Google, and a vast, collaborative filter, striving to gather the true facts and screen out the false ones. Searching and filtering are all that stand between this world and the Library of Babel. (p. 410, Chapter 15: New News Every Day)
This passage seemed to be the most thought provoking because it makes me delve into the unknown world called the Internet and its filtering abilities. Cat videos and civil war facts have nothing really in common but they can all be found in one place, the Internet. This is where the idea of filtering pops in. Past purchases can stick with your computer’s history and keep bringing up ads related to your purchase. This is filtering to one’s own taste.
Through James Gleick’s The Information, I can get a gist of what he is trying to say about information. It all started with the upgraded creation of the transistor and the bit. This led to way too much information at once, or information overload. Too much information of one idea isn’t bad, but too much information of more than one idea is, though. I go on the Internet to look up math help but then get sidetracked to youtube. This is very dangerous for students like us, because too much information can be distractive and disruptive like the “Leave Britney Alone” video. Filtering is a good option for information especially if they do not want to go through all the billions of search pages that Google offers. All the information that is available is great and all but there is a time and place for funny youtube videos and math help. With this filtering process, time is saved and used for other purposes.
Businesses today use filtering to get the information more efficiently. Like the passage states, Wikipedia is a good example. They categorize their information and their information is usually correct. They have editors to fix wrong information but not all of them can be fixed because there is so much information out there and information can change daily. The last sentence of the passage really struck a cord with me. It is, in a way, very true. The world’s information contains the Library of Babel. All someone needs to do is filter the information they want into creating their Library of Babel.