Too much information, or too little knowledge?

tomuchinfo

 

Complaints about information overload have a long history.

“The abundance of information has become a distraction….”

“We’re inundated with content that’s foolish, ignorant, libellous and mad….”

“Can there be no end to it?”

 

These laments came from Ecclesiastes in 930 BC, Seneca in the 1st century AD, and Erasmus in the 16th century when Gutenberg flooded the market with “thousands upon thousands of books.”

But with each explosion in information, there has also been an accompanying surge in transformative new methods for dealing with all the data. Public libraries, universal bibliographies, and encyclopaedias – all transformative, all giving people a way to handle the overload.

And now, again we find ourselves swimming in a tidal wave of information, trying to make sense of it all, looking for new ways of coping, new methods to successfully sift through the terabyte infoglut, a new approach to find what is relevant to us personally.

We need new coping mechanisms

That ‘needing’ was the subject that technology writer Nicholas Carr tackled in his 2011 Pulitzer finalist and bestselling The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. His worry: the flood of digital information is actually altering our mental abilities. Forced to scan and skim to keep up, we are losing the ability to pay attention, to contemplate, to remember.

And in his 2014 book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Carr focused in on the very real consequences of our growing co-dependency with our computers. He sees a culture at the brink; modern technology has created a problem that our brains are unequipped to handle.

Ours is a problem we’ve welcomed, it is important to note. Our terabyte world was not created in a vacuum, but in response to our desires and ambitions for it.

  • We have wanted better sources of information.
  • Wanted to share our knowledge with wider and more receptive audiences.
  • But now we clearly want better methods of handling it all, or organizing and presenting it, so that we may keep up.

 

What we share with our ancestors is the sense of infoglut

When we search for something online, we turn up vastly more results than we can use. Way too much bad stuff; way too little good stuff.

Even three decades into the Internet era, the ways of acquiring knowledge and using it have evolved little from King Solomon’s time. We still need to select, summarize, and sort information, then apply some judgment and focus.

 

Isn’t it time we transform this process, and open up the possibilities?

Some of today’s innovative minds argue that MOOCs are the solution (the massive online open courses that people can take to receive personalized training in a specialized subject). One champion is Bryant Nielson, who runs Capital Wave, providers of online financial training globally. In a series of LinkedIn articles, Nielson compares MOOCs to public libraries. You cannot, he argues, judge a library by the small numbers of people who actually use them, but rather by the number of people who use them and achieve a desired goal. So too with MOOCs:

“We can’t measure the success of a public library based only on the number of people who go into the library and then, regardless of their intentions, leave with a book which they then read cover to cover. That would be silly. It is equally silly to judge the success of a MOOC based on the overall percentage of people who complete the course. For corporate trainers, the more relevant metric is the 80-to-90% completion rate of those who enroll in the verified certificate track.”

It makes perfect sense to conclude, as Nielson does, that public libraries aren’t failures, and neither are MOOCs. They are an answer to information overload, but are they transformative in any way — other than the cool of the user interface?

In both the good MOOCs that Mr. Nielson provides his clients, as well as in the not-so-good ones where attendance metrics aren’t so impressive, the basics haven’t changed. Users are still involved in the select-summarize-sort-judge-focus model. In short…

 

MOOCs continue the “telling isn’t training” problem

Using a technology to cram even more information into our heads, no matter the means of distribution, is not solving for terabyte-scale overload. It’s still just ‘telling.’ For it to become the training needed in today’s world, with a focused goal orientation that strips away all but the essential needed facts for achieving a given end, a different tact is required.

A tact that has not been taken since Solomon’s time, but that is now changing thanks to the advances in machine learning.

We at Scredible are bringing machine learning to bear on the problem, trying to create human-machine learning solutions to bear on our terabyte challenges.

Scredible is programmed to figure out:

  • what you know
  • what you don’t know but need to
  • what you might need to know based on the day’s unfolding events

And deliver just the knowledge you need when you need it.

It is essentially just-in-time learning and talent development, not so different from the just-in-time manufacturing concepts pioneered in Japan in the 1950s.

The Scredible app becomes a tireless digital assistant with limitless computing power, there to take the heavy lifting out of knowledge acquisition and use.

Scredible has already built the basic platform for delivering this transformation. Out of the gate Scredible customers receive:

  • Goal-Oriented Knowledge— Scredible finds news stories, influential contacts, and content targeted to your stated goals, expanding the knowledge base you need to reach out and connect.
  • More Meaningful Engagement—Increase your following and influence as Scredible helps you write more informed posts to get your ideas noticed and engaged in the networks that matter.
  • Optimized Online Presence— Being easy to find online is an essential part of social branding. Scredible Streams make this simple and seamless, with all your best thinking and social activity brought together in a single, search engine-friendly location.
  • Impact That’s Measurable— View your accomplishments, track and measure your impact, and engage with your followers right in the app. Real-time analytics allow you to focus your social activity where it matters — on your goals.

And in the year ahead Scredible will be perfecting and adding knowledge tools in the hopes that if you cannot have the Wisdom of Solomon, you can at least acquire success in the time of terabytes.

Scredible is free to use—click to start.

 

Further reading:

Ann Blair, Too Much To Know, Yale University Press, 2011

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Norton, 2014

Nicholas Carr, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Norton, 2014

Bryant Nielson on LinkedIn

Lee Troxler

Lee Troxler

President of Scredible Plc
Lee is highly experienced in launching start-ups and driving marketing campaigns. An author of 20 books, he was a writer for three US Presidents, and has written and co-produced three feature movies.
Lee Troxler

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