Context of Communication and Technology
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Context of Communication and Technology
Context of Communication and Technology
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Coping with information overload

November 3, 2010


With all the paperwork, emails, presentations, phone calls and attachments, we are now struggling with information overload.
One of the big issues now is information overload. It’s coming in from everywhere, thanks to multi tasking and email. It’s just an avalanche of information, whether it’s from phone calls, attachments, Power Point presentations, instant messages and newsletters or social media.

In case you missed it, last week was Information Overload Awareness Day. It was suggested that people put their smart phone on mute and not check their email every time the pop up appears on the screen.
But that’s not really a solution. People might be able to do that for an hour or so, some even a day, but in the end they will go back to what they have always done. Information overload is now a permanent part of our lives. So what should we do about it?

According to a study from LexisNexis, reported here, half the Australian workforce of professionals is feeling demoralised and totally overwhelmed by the amount of information pouring in and, according to Marc Peter, Director of Technology and Business Development at LexisNexis Pacific, that’s leading to “information rage”.

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Significantly, the study found that 50% of Australian professionals say that on average, only about half of the information that comes their way every day at work is actually important to them getting their job done. Furthermore, only 40% of email that lands in their inbox helps them do their job (in my case, it's about 20%), 88% of Australian workers say they want to spend less time organising, and more time using the information that comes their way, Only one in five Australian professionals says the company has bothered training them on information management.

These figures tell us one thing: white-collar workers right around the world, from New York to Sydney, say they spend as much time wading through information as they do using it to get on with their jobs. And in every market, most employees say that the amount of information they have to manage at work has significantly increased since the economic downturn.

So what’s causing it? Many would say the Internet, but management consultant James Adonis begs to differ. He says the problem is not the amount of information. It's more about our inability to handle the onslaught.

"We can’t blame the Internet for it all,’’ Adonis says.“Whilst it’s undoubtedly exacerbating the issue, information overload has been around for decades. It’s just that today it’s instantaneous. With transmission of data from one person to another so effortless, we’re oblivious to the potential anxiety of the person who may not need (or care about) the information we’re conveying. Contrary to the theory of too much information is a contrary theory dubbed ‘organisation underload’. Proponents of this philosophy suggest it’s not an abundance of information that’s the problem; what’s really causing the angst is our inability to deal with it.”

Clay Shirky, one of the most prominent and best read commentators on the internet and new media, expands on this point. He says there is nothing new about information overload, it has always been with us. The problem, he says, is we haven’t yet learned how to filter stuff from the Internet in the same way as, say, a library card system.

Management consultant Tom Davenport makes an interesting point in the Harvard Business Review. He says we don’t deal with information overload because we actually like it. “Our work and home lives can be pretty boring, and we're always hoping that something will come across the ether that will liven things up. If I turn up the filtering on the spam filter or turn off the smartphone, I might miss out on an email promising a new job, a text message offering a new relationship, an RSS feed with a new news item, and so forth. Every new communication offers the frisson of a possible life-changing information event, though it seldom delivers on the promise.”

Still, the LexisNexis study suggests it’s a problem, whether we want the information or not.

Do you think we suffer from information overload? Do you? Where’s it coming from? How should we best deal with the problem? Or do you actually want the information? How much of it is important for your job, and how much of it is rubbish?

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Teaching Twitter could become a class act

Stephen Hutcheon
March 26, 2009


British schoolchildren may soon be studying the tweets of Ashton Kutcher along with the sonnets of Shakespeare.
A leaked Government report due to be released shortly, recommends that British primary school teachers be given much more flexibility in deciding what lessons to teach.
And while it emphasises the continued necessity of teaching traditional subjects such as spelling, history and arithmetic, it also recommends that students be taught about online media and instructed about web-based skills including how to use a spell checker.
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The report, which was cited by The Guardian newspaper, is part of a Government initiative to radically overhaul the primary school curriculum.
One of the key proposals recommends that students be taught about online phenomena such as the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and the micro-blogging site Twitter.
The report would require "children to leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication. They must gain 'fluency' in handwriting and keyboard skills, and learn how to use a spell checker alongside how to spell".
Twitter is a two-year-old service that allows you to broadcast - or "tweet" - 140-character text messages to the world. Among its many devotees are politicians and entertainers, including actor Ashton Kutcher, who is ranked as the world's fifth most "followed" Twitterer.
The plans were condemned by John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers.
"It seems to jump on the latest trends such as Wikipedia and Twitter," he told the newspaper.
In Australia, NSW HSC students were this year able to opt to take a course in studying Wikipedia - marking the first time in this country that the study of the online encyclopedia had been formally included in a syllabus.
Wikipedia, which ranks among the world's most visited sites, was listed by the NSW Board of Studies as a prescribed text for an elective course in the English syllabus for 2009-2012.
The website is one of a number of "texts" - a choice that also includes a book and a movie - that students can choose to study in an elective called the Global Village, a course examining how the world's communities communicate and interact.
Founded in 2001, Wikipedia is now available in more than 260 languages and attracts about 700 million visitors annually. The English editon alone contains more than 2.8 million articles.
Wikipedia is maintained by volunteers from all over the world and anyone with an internet connection can create and edit articles and publish them on the site.
However, because the site allows authors and editors to use pseudonyms, the system is open to abuse, vandalism and a selective telling of history that reflects an author's bias.

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