Breaking through the attention barrier

For some reason I get a bit annoyed when people write about our information overload limits. This happened the other day when I saw Seth Godin’s piece titled “Warning: The internet is almost full.” He writes:

“The decentralized nature of the net means that it will never be physically full. As long as we can keep making hard drives, we won’t run out of space to store those inane videos of your Aunt Sally. What is full is our attention.”

I just refuse to believe that we’ve hit the ceiling of what the human brain can deal with.

There is no doubt that we have a lot of useless information available to us, much of it pushed at us, cluttering our lives in really irritating ways. But information overload is a symptom of some bigger issues that we can and should resolve.

I think it’s about better linguistics, technologies and education, to begin with. More broadly, it’s about how we collectively understand and apply abstraction layers to manage a more complex world.

Like everyone, I hit my attention limit nearly every day. Seth is right when he says “You can’t read every important blog… you can’t even read all the blogs that tell you what the important blogs are saying.”

That’s a reason to explore some more, not to give up. We shouldn’t become fatalistic about the future of information or look down our noses at all that messy stuff strewn about the Internet. I never want the flow of information to slow down or, worse, retract, no matter how much mess gets in the way of finding the stuff that matters to me.

What we may need are more dramatic changes in our language, more effective information discovery services, more experience-based education programs both for kids and adults, and, perhaps even more important than all that, an altered world view that can accommodate and make the most of the vast resources that are now part of our culture forever.