INFORMATION OVERLOAD: And one way to tackle it

Do me a favour, would you? Stop. Just for a second and relax.I don’t want you to finish this blog more tense than you started.

Three things dawned on me today as a blizzard of amazing links poured through my Twitter stream.

One. My brain was capsizing. And I was starting to get tense.

Two. There are only 24 hours in a day and you only have one pair of hands. You can’t know it all.

Three. The answer became clear. Do one thing at a time. Bit like my Grandad did growing things on an allotment.

The scale and velocity of social media is exciting, inspiring and frightening.

“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload,” said Marshall McLuhan.

“There’s always more than you can cope with.”

He died in 1980. And all he had to deal with were three TV channels that finished at midnight and Pong. Lucky man.

I quitelike this one, too. “Getting information from the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” Mitchell Kapor said that.

Information overload? Here’s me. I’m following 500 people on Twitter. I try to keep up. I do. Really.

Oh, and Right now I’d like to know more of geotagging, Foursquare, smartphones, Flip, Google maps, podcasting and Facebook.

I know it can’t all be done.

This is exactly why people who call themselves ‘social media experts’ are not. Because you simply can’t be.

So what? Here’s my answer. Be good at something rather than a dabbler in everything.

It’s okay not know everything. Why? Because you can’t. And besides, nobody likes a know-all.

Do one project at a time. One month at a time. Make it a good one. Understand it. Then maybe move on.

I forget where I heard that, but it’s a brilliant, brilliant piece of advice.

Philip John is good at WordPress because he has spent time on it.

Bristol Editor is good at blogging about journalism for the same reason.

And Liz Azyan with LGEO Research and Dave Briggs knows local government because she has knows her onions.

Sarah Lay got good at Google maps because she spent a bit of time on it. And listened to how Stuart Harrison did it.

Specialise. Relax. Have a little corner allotment plot of the digital universe and take time to grow something good there.

As my Grandad once said, do potatoes first. Watch them grow. Get good at them. THEN try something a bit trickier. Like carrots. Then try artichokes. Before you know it you’ve got a thriving corner of produce. You can try to be Sainsbury’s. You’ll fail. It’ll be more fun being an allotment market gardener with this stuff.

One step at a time.

Okay? Feel a bit better now?

Main pic credit: Will Lion

Join the Conversation


  1. Some very good points here. I intentionally spent as little time as possible in front of the computer screen over the 2 week Christmas hols (a luxury I can afford being a self-employed home-worker) and it was refreshingly liberating!

    The only screen time I clocked up was playing sports on the Wii and spending Christmas vouchers online.

    I’m considering a bit of a digital cull, cutting back on followers, ‘friends’, feeds, mailing lists etc. I think perhaps doing this once or twice a year and allowing new things to grow and build back up over time is one way of managing the information overload.

    I love the fire hydrant analogy!

  2. Good points. I’m often surprised / disturbed / pleased (delete depending on mood) to discover how little you need to know about something to know more than most other people.

    Over-estimating your own knowledge is a dangerous thing, but often it doesn’t take that much learning to know more than an awful lot of other people who talk about the topic at great length.

  3. A really great post with lots of sage advice (although I’m not sure I ‘get’ maps yet!).

    I really like the allotment analogy and your approach of one project, one thing at a time. I try and do that as much as I can. I learnt about maps because there was something I needed to do and so it was time for me to gain that skill. Not to any great level but sufficient.

    I’m now working on something else as I’ve another project and a different skill I need as well as building on ones I’ve already got.

    Time vs information is a tricky one though. Great filtering skills and tools help but you have to draw the line somewhere!

  4. Well put Dan.
    You know my thoughts on this, we’ve spoken in the past.

    I’m thinking about boy scouts and badges down shirt sleeves at the moment.
    It’s not until they realise that they’ve forgotten to either tie their shoelaces or fasten their trousers that the truth gets exposed, but unfortunately, when that happens, it probably means that someone somewhere gets very upset.

    My research is covering the psychological effect of information overload right now.
    There’s a good section about it in Born Digital (John Palfrey & Urs Gasser)- Understanding the 1st Generation of Digital Natives.
    Good explanations and research has been done into young people’s psychology, attainment, attention, stress etc, and your post is a good example of similar thoughts and the effects in the real world, not just academic study.

    If you’ve got time away from the vegetable patch, I’ll lend you my copy when I’m done with it.

    1. There’s some really good points made by these comments. I’m genuinely fascinated in how people respond to being bombarded with this stuff.

      It’s taken me a good long while to realise – as James did – that sometimes going offline for a while can give you better perspective to cut out the white noise. Paul’s research sounds ace. Look forward to seeing him at #wmcsms to talk about it further.

      I think everyone has the ability to be really good and really passionate about a corner of this vegetable plot. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a big leap forward.

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