Cyberpunk Librarian: Dealing With Information Overload

So, like a lot of people my age, I’m 35.

And like a lot of people in general, I use Google Reader to keep track of a bunch of feeds. I have no idea how many are in my Reader, and I don’t care.

See that? That bolded bit? Where I said I don’t care. That, my friends, is the secret to information overload. At any time I pop in to check my feeds, there could be anywhere from 50 – 450 new items there for me to read. They cover a huge spectrum from science to libraries to comics to art to hacking and on and on and on. So there’s a wide gulf of things in there to keep me entertained, informed, and educated.

However, like a lot of people in general, I’m busy. I’ve got things to do. I have a job. A family. I like to run. I like to play video games and read and write and create and do stuff. I don’t always have time to read 450+ items and digest what they’re saying. So I do something else a lot of other people do, I declare RSS bankruptcy and mark a bunch of crap as read, even though I never even looked at it.

The thing that I do differently is this. I’ll declare RSS bankruptcy once a day, sometimes more often than that. I have a simple strategy of dealing with information overload that I don’t see discussed all that often and that simple strategy is this:

It’s just news. Don’t worry if you miss some of it because there will certainly be more later.

Look, I want to be on top of my profession and my passions just like the next person, but I can’t. Most of us can’t because there’s just too much and we’re too busy. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, it’s just news.

Thing is, the odds are good you won’t miss out on something important. Say, for instance, you check your Reader. Holy crap, there are 362 unread items and you have to be back at work in ten minutes. No way you’re going to read all that. And, if you leave it for later there will be more of it to read. So you do like I do: Mark it all read, you’ll check later.

But, in that mess of stuff, there’s a really important story! Oh my god! Apple is releasing a new iWidget and it’s going to have a profound impact on your life or your job or whatever. And you missed it!

No you didn’t.

Go see what this guy has to say about the news. He's BRILLIANT.

Seriously, when was the last time something big happened and it wasn’t covered by six or seven news outlets then discussed in great detail online via blogs and social sites? Then someone will make a video about it and post that online while another person made it the topic of their podcast that week. After that it’ll be the subject of a special release on four of your favourite websites and your friend will text or email you about it that night because they read about it in a webcomic.

And even if you do miss it, in spite of all that, so what? Unless you’re the CEO of a big name company (you’re not, by the way) then you’re simply approaching the new thing as a consumer, just like millions of other people. Sure, you may have grand ideas that no one else has thought of… but are you really going to be able to act on them now? Like, as in, tonight?

Screw it, you’ll be fine. It’ll keep until you hear about it from another source, probably tomorrow, or more likely the next time you happen to open your Google Reader.

As librarians, I think we get kind of hung up on the whole WE MUST HAVE ALL THE INFORMATION! No you don’t. You weed your collections on a regular basis because there’s too much stuff in it and you don’t feel bad about that, do you? So why feel bad about ditching a bunch of stuff in your feeds that you’re not going to get to anyway?

It’s just news. Don’t worry. Someone will make more.

14 comments

  1. Honestly I just don’t open the reader sometimes. Most of them I scan the headlines but I have one feed that has 50 or more a day. That one gets the same treatment you apply. To the personal friends blogs or ones I really enjoy, I simply leave the unread until later. Like you if I get to it I get to it. One thing you don’t mention, most blogs and news sources also have links to previous material. Imagine that they archive it for you. LOL If it is something you feel you missed out on later, its still there. 🙂

  2. Hm. No fair. I was going to say that. However, instead I will say that because of this post, I will be adding your blog to my reader that now has 1000+ items in it. I will try to remember your wisdom even though it makes me want to throw up with anxiety.

  3. I’ll admit it: I have a hard time with letting go of things. I’ve gotten better about not needing to read every tweet from everyone I follow on Twitter. Other than that, I still struggle. That pile of professional reading I want to do is embarrassingly tall. My “To Be Read” list in Pinboard.In is crazy long (this post was in there for a bit). Every once in a while I go through and weed – I’m a librarian so I’m good at weeding – but it weighs on me.

  4. True confessions….

    We get the NYTimes delivered in print but, when they pile up for a day or two, I read them backwards. That way I don’t worry about things that got solved while I wasn’t reading.

  5. So I’m applauding your common sense approach to information overload and uncommon sense of humor. But there’s a deeper, darker secret that drives some of us to abandon sleep in order to read one last tweet or give the Google Reader one final spin before we drag ourselves to bed. It’s not fear of missing something but more like the gamblers’ obsession of playing until we break the bank, until we win the big one. Or maybe it’s more like digital IChing. We’re searching for meaning in all the wrong places.

    Anyone else ever feel like a Google Gambler — feeling lucky?

    1. A common sense approach and uncommon sense of humor…

      I think I have a new tagline for myself. 🙂

      Seriously though, thanks for your comment and compliment!

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