Clay Shirky was wrong
It is about information overload.
The problem isn’t information overload. It’s filter failure.
Metaphor: The oil filter in my car can fail because it’s there. It already exists, has a clear purpose and known way of operating.
But the “filter failure” Clay Shirky refers to isn’t the same. We’ve developed information overload over the last several decades, but we simply don’t have the filters needed to adequately deal with it. Something that doesn’t exist and hasn’t been tested can’t fail.
My point isn’t so much about Clay Shirky. He’s super smart.
I’m really saying that we need to stop blaming “filter failure” when information overload really is a problem. Today I have email accounts with 4 different email providers. I’m getting information through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Google Alerts, Yammer groups I’m a member of, etc. All of this information is actually highly filtered. I’ve chosen the people I follow, the groups I’m a member of and the words that are triggering my alerts. It’s all aimed at my area of professional interest. Yet I still don’t read a tenth of the good stuff out there on the topics I’m interested in.
The number of items under the “to_read” tag in my Delicious bookmarks grows every day. It never shrinks. My “To Read” Circle in Google+ is filling up with old stories I haven’t gotten around to yet and that are probably already irrelevant.
I’m highly judicious about who I follow on Twitter, yet my Twitter stream is wickedly busy.
The reality of modern life is that we have tons of information coming at us from every possible direction. When we blame “filter failure” we do detriment to our own human nature. We’re not designed to sit calmly under a constant waterfall of information on the computer, TV and smart phones and rapidly filter out all the crap that’s low quality or off topic. We’re not designed to work within companies with tens of thousands of employees and truly understand the entire business.
We were designed to hunt deer-like creatures in the Savanah, to roam the mountains and boat down rivers. We were designed to interact with other human beings, adapt to complex ecosystems, sing, dance, run and play music.
Information overload is a real thing. The filters haven’t failed so much as they never existed in the first place. Good filters are part of our ongoing adaptation to information overload.
So take it easy on me for sometimes getting buried beneath email, to-do lists and reading lists. Take it easy on yourself for missing out on lots of great information and conversations. We need to collectively take it easy on ourselves for being overwhelmed by the constant flood of information.
It’s not just filter failure.