How Do You Manage Digital Information?

Information datastream

Information overload is a term popularized by the sociologist Alvin Toffler in his bestselling 1970 book Future Shock, which examines the effects of rapid industrial and technological changes upon the individual, the family and society. Information overload refers to the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information.

In Future Shock, Toffler writes:

If overstimulation at the sensory level increases the distortion with which we percieve reality, cognitive overstimulation interferes with our ability to “think.” [...] Managers plagued by demands for rapid, incessant and complex decisions; pupils deluged with facts and hit with repeated tests; housewives confronted with squalling children, jangling telephones, broken washing machines, the wail of rock and roll from the teenager’s living room and the whine of the television set in the parlor — may well find their ability to think and act clearly impaired by the waves of information crashing into their senses. It is more than possible that some of the symptoms noted among battle-stressed soldiers, disaster victims, and culture shocked travelers are related to this kind of information overload.

As a computational biologist and new media journalist, I’ve always been fascinated with information and how an individual can organize, filter and search that information. So has Simon Frantz [Twitter: @simon_frantz], a science features editor at BBC Worldwide and creator of the Nobel Prize Watch blog. Together, we’re moderating a session on managing information overload at the ScienceOnline2012 conference in North Carolina later this month (currently scheduled for Saturday, January 21st from 10:45am-11:45am). Here’s the session abstract:

Drowning in Information! How Can We Create Organization & Balance

Tools and strategies for managing information overload (science and otherwise) (discussion)

We’re all suffering from the same condition: information overload and filter failure. Yet some people seem to manage the torrent of information more efficiently and effortlessly than others. What’s their secret? We’ll take a tour of some of the tools available to manage the mass of science-related content — from RSS to reference managers, and from collaboration docs to social aggregation. We’ll also reveal the daily reading habits of some of the best-known purveyors of science content, and come armed with your own tips for battling info overload too.

We Need Your Help

Neither Simon nor I consider ourselves experts at managing information overload. Sure, we can give some tips and describe strategies that work for us, but there’s other people that manage information just as good as we do (maybe even better). And as the session will be held in unconference format, everyone in the room is both a source and destination of thought.

That said, we need to know how YOU manage digital information. To find out, we’ve prepared a short, 10 question survey on information management. Even if you’re not attending the ScienceOnline2012 conference, I encourage you to take the survey. At the conference, we’ll summarize the results and profile some of the respondents who excel at managing information overload. We hope you’ll join us in the discussion.

So, tell us: how do you manage digital information?

Walter Jessen is a digital strategist, writer, web developer and data scientist. You can typically find him behind the screen something with an internet connection.

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