As goes a famous phrase of T.S. Eliot, “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” And with the information age, we are overloaded. Whether or not we belong to the enterprise, we are likely swimming in information with the generally implied idea that we must have a response to it.
Moreover, even if we explicitly resist the clinging and clanging of the newest generation of digital beeps indicating new information that is available, we are likely to be drawn in or part of a digital resistance, which angrily decries all the new modes of information sharing.
Indeed, there is a logic to this. Very little information of the vast amount of new information available is valuable in and of itself. Some of this may be valuable in aggregate — I can find out, for instance, how many people talked about Justin Bieber this week on Twitter and how this corresponds to the number of people talking about any other pop artist. Other information is completely useless.
What are, however, the exceptions? As I see them, there are several “new” things emerging in this wave of technology:
- I can reach people that I never could reach before. If I met someone once in China with a specific knowledge of acupuncture points on the foot, I can now easily reach out to him five years later when I have a specific question about foot massage. This is amazing and allows for greater hyper-specialization (by, among other things, empowering generalists at the same time)
– I feel, or can feel, connected to people far away that previously I felt distant. This is particularly important within the sphere of work, in which more and more people work remotely. I can be working “with” people everywhere and their little personal things, as insignificant as they can be, can give me the feel of a virtual office (even, at times, a virtual cubicle!).
(3) Breaking news
– In certain sectors, including technology, getting the information while it is hot and being part of the “breaking wave” can give one new energy — a bit like surfing. If you are on the beach, it just isn’t going to be exciting for you or anyone else watching you. And, with each new wave, you can “surf” everywhere.
(4) Flattened world
- In many respects, I disagree with folks like Thomas Friedman that describe a flat world as a good thing — but in some instances it can be very good. These mediums often allow us to reach across barriers for causes good or bad — increasing the accountability of political figures and companies.
If there is a good, of course there is a bad. One needs to be aggressive in filtering information that might be useful and removing completely useless sources of information.
Here are some evaluations:
(1) Twitter -> Hit or miss. If I am plugged in all day I catch everything. If I unplug, I only get little bits. I wish I had a better filter.
(2) Facebook -> I aggressively “hide” people not in my immediate vicinity or with whom I am not working. I get value from finding about things from people/orgs I watch, as the signal to noise ratio remains reasonably high.
(3) Hacker News -> I created a filter for Hacker News since it was as bit like Twitter for me.
(4) RSS -> I have almost abandoned RSS.
(5) Email -> I have 50+ filters setup in Gmail and probably that number of folders and subfolders. This remains my primary “feed.” I actually think Facebook could replace this, largely because there are a lot of things missing in email protocols that they can build into Facebook messages (e.g. the “read” notification). This would be a huge win for Facebook, since although within messaging right now they are doing a good job with convenience, if they actually had a superior technology set they could make a good show of replacing email altogether (this was, in part, part of the goal of Google Wave).
If you are interested in more, here’s a related Hacker News thread.
P.S. It is clear that Salesforce, Yammer, etc. are following rather than leading the “Facebooks” of the world, so I don’t think it makes sense to focus on them in particular.