Today’s Problem: Overload vs. Need to Know

In business, education, and daily life, each of us are bombarded by an overwhelming amount of information from a growing number of channels; we need to shield ourselves to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Despite a growing portfolio of tools and services at our fingertips, the sense of being adrift, falling behind, and out of control continues to grow. At the same time, each of us requires a flow of information about our interests, professional pursuits, studies — and we need this information relevant to our specific individual needs just in time and just in place. The reason for this disconnection between abundant data and limited attention is that information technology has evolved far more quickly than educational institutions. Most people lack attentional techniques and information-handling tools to deal masterfully with the information-processing demands of an always-on society — because we’ve never been given the opportunity to learn these techniques and tools systematically, within a conceptual framework that makes sense today.

From extensive study, practice, and teaching, we have developed some key models to help people deal with this growing challenge. Most people’s ability to function online has developed haphazardly by learning ad-hoc technologies and approaches. What has been lacking has been a structured approach to guide us through the learning process strategically. In the ever-pressing and never-ending flood of new information, few people have been given an opportunity to step back and examine their actual needs and priorities relative to an overabundance of data. We learn through example and practice to use basic concepts such as keyword searches, figure out how to customize our user interfaces and task environments; however, we carry out these tasks in isolation and without benefit of seeing the bigger picture of what our existing requirements are (in terms of sorting and filtering information) and how to assert control and gain mastery of our own information retrieval and filtration.

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