The Edge Question of the Year 2014

What scientific idea is reday for retirement?

We should retire the idea that goes by the name “information overload.” It is no longer useful.

The Internet scholar Clay Shirky puts it well: “There’s no such thing as information overload. There’s only filter failure.” If your filters are bad there is always too much to attend to, and never enough time. These aren’t trends powered by technology. They are conditions of life.

Filters in a digital world work not by removing what is filtered out; they simply don’t select for it. The unselected material is still there, ready to be let through by someone else’s filter. Intelligent filters, which is what we need, come in three kinds:

  • A smart person who takes in a lot and tells you what you need to know. The ancient term for this is “editor.” The front page of the New York Times still works this way.
  • An algorithm that sifts through the choices other smart people have made, ranks them, and presents you with the top results. That’s how Google works— more or less.
  • A machine learning system that over time gets to know your interests and priorities and filters the world for you in a smarter and smarter way. Amazon uses systems like that.

Here’s the best definition of information that I know of: information is a measure of uncertainty reduced.

Jay Rosen, on ‘Information Overload’

previously, The Edge Questions of the Years 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, & 2013

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