Several months ago I made an effort to clear out my email in-box. It was stuffed full of unread e-newsletters, listserve notices, email from students, staff and faculty, the odd email from a client or supplier, and the general debris of modern life. I slowly trolled through my email, often distracted by those wonderful e-newsletters, which so conveniently pull together the news of the day/week/month that might be of use. And of course, each newsletter had two or three postings of note that I followed back to the respective website to read the whole article. Before I knew it, I had spent several hours reviewing my email, saving articles for their usefulness (or for later reading, which, of course, will never happen).
It occurred to me that I was trying to read information from an ever growing number of online sources. Endless, it seemed. And each and every source of information lead to further sources. For a collector of ideas, facts and information, the internet is both a treasure trove of information, and a trap. A time sink. An endless search for more and more and more. The endless stream of knowledge found online newspapers, magazines, blogs, Twitter, Facebook. How do our tiny little brains, designed for survival in a world of limited information (saber tooth tiger equals trouble), assimilate vast quantities of information that literally bombard us? The answer is that we don’t. It appears that there are three basic strategies that people are using to manage the onslaught of information:
- Don’t bother gathering information (The fat, dumb and happy approach)
- Ignore what you don’t agree with (The Fox News approach)
- Avoid all of the information coming at you (The ostrich approach)
I personally have chosen number three — let it all pile up in the in-box and RSS feeder and occasionally do a major purge. Apparently there is a new trend among people who have let their in-box get beyond them. They just send out a mass email apologizing to all indicating that they have deleted their entire in-box and are starting fresh.
The only problem with this strategy (and it is one that I have seriously considered), is that an empty in-box is like an empty laundry basket. Five minutes after you’ve folded your last sock, there will be new dirty clothes to be washed. Within five minutes of hitting the delete key, there will be new email to open, read and assimilate. I hate doing the laundry too.