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The Tyranny of Information Flow

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I was working at a client’s office yesterday. Normally, I’d be able to keep up with my emails and RSS feeds on the two-hour train journey down to London, but I had the misfortune of taking one of the trains that did not have any power points. I was working on ancient laptop at the time, and its battery doesn’t work properly, so I was deprived of internet access for close to five hours there and back. Not only that, but my train was diverted and a journey that should have taken two hours ended up closer to three and a half. I got home at close to 4am.

The upshot of all of this was that I did not bother updating the Inari Twitter with the latest IT news, nor did I check my emails, or even log on to the blog to check for comments. Instead, I was in bed almost as soon as I got home, and was up – very reluctantly – this morning. What greeted me when I fired up the computer was a challenge: over 1682 unread items in Google Reader, 206 unread emails (four from my mother) and an untold number of Tweets from people I follow. An afternoon and evening of not being online had delivered a tsunami of information that needed to be dealt with.

This is one of the downsides of Web 2.0: no matter where you are, or what you’re doing, there will always be a new status update to pay attention to, or a link you might miss if you don’t stay on top of your news sources. Skip your usual routine for any amount of time and you could find yourself out of the loop and scrabbling to make up time and content. I have finally caught up with all of my feeds, but it is the middle of the night, I passed up a picnic to get my affairs in order, and I still have a couple of emials to send in the morning.

Social networks, blogs and news sites are all wonderful things; I would not give them up for the world. However, the sheer volume of information that I had to get to grips with after a brief hiatus has convinced me of two things: 1) I read too much, and should cut down on my subscriptions, and 2) sometimes the Internet can be too much of a good thing. The solution is to go through my 300+ feeds and decide which of them I can dispose of without feeling a loss, and also to marshall energies into that which I can accomplish while away from home.

Not every email or link is urgent, nor is every Tweet destined to be passed on. The trick is in finding the balance that appeals to me, so that I can feel connected even though I may not be immediately behind a screen.

[Image by Moogs]


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