Wednesday, August 15, 2007

InfoMania - Information Overload

Ironically I am contemplating the results of this research article on the effects of information overload on "knowledge workers" as I sit at my desk waiting for the beep that indicates I have a new email in my inbox. Though the article couches its results in terms of loss of productivity--the way everything seems to be measured in the media these days--it makes some great points that I realize apply to most academics. We are the ultimate "knowledge workers." We think that those of us who eschew email are old-fashioned. We watch our students text messaging, instant messaging, using Facebook and MySpace and who knows what other communication methods invented yesterday. Maybe it is time to step back and look at our own brains on constant, instant and often irrelevant communication.

Try this research article in First Monday.

Infomania: Why We Wan’t Afford to Ignore It Any Longer
by Nathan Zeldes, David Sward, and Sigal Louchheim

The creative thinking process requires long stretches of uninterrupted time, to study books, articles and online resources, and to process information, sorting it mentally and generating insight. These activities take time as well as mental concentration, which builds up slowly and can easily be lost.

Field research demonstrates that restoring daily segments of contiguous “Quiet Time” can have a major effect of increasing productivity in development teams [21], [22]. Additional research shows a correlation between a fragmented work mode and reduced creativity [23].

In the past, such thinking time was core to the work paradigm. Newton got hit by that apple because he was sitting under a tree. Sitting and contemplating the world (what we now call “doing nothing”) was an expected part of a scientist’s routine. More recently, say ten years ago, employees could still expect to do some thinking – if no other way, after 5 PM, during the weekend, or by hiding in a conference room.

Today, the only time we can think is when the flight attendant orders us to close our notebooks prior to landing. At any other time – 24x7 – we’re accessible to beeping, alerting, attention–grabbing devices and software tools. We are expected to respond to them instantly. One perspective is that technology channels our thinking to multiple, mostly trivial problems instead of focusing on a few important ones where we can create real value.

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