I know I am not alone in feeling like I'm drowning in information. And I'm not talking about spam. I'm talking about information after it's passed through all my filters, stuff I'm eager to know about. There is just too much of it. Notwithstanding the normal channels through which I've grown accustomed to such as email, friends to stay in touch with, meetings to attend to, research papers that I need to stay on top of, books I want to read, Tivo recordings I want to watch, and so forth. Now that RSS feeds have become ubiquitous, I could have literally hundreds of posts each day from highly selective sources coming through my aggregator, the majority of which, much to my dismay, are actually worth reading. To make matters worse, people are now finding ways to take non-textual informational sources such as audio files (e.g. podcasting) and even video files and tying that to RSS. In the near foreseeable future, it will be possible to tie together something like RSS and BitTorrent and have Hollywood blockbusters, independent films, and quarterly conference calls all streamed to me right when they are released (notwithstanding the legal implications). It's so bad that when I walk in the bookstore, I sometimes have the urge to stop by the self-help section to skim through books on time management to pick up any bones of advice one of these authors might throw my way. And it's clear it's not just me. A large fraction of the people I interact with are walking around with their eyes glazed, seemingly on auto-pilot, speaking a mile a minute about this blog they read, this documentary they Tivo'd, this video they saw on the Net, this new startup company that's hot. And every year it just seems to get worse and worse.
All of this information seems to be having strange psychological effects in the way we perceive time. Generally speaking, most people tend to experience time relative to the number of events that occurr in their life, larger events getting more weight. So what happens when we start to experience more, when more opportunities for interaction become available and more and more events interrupt our nourmal course of awareness , thereby disrupting our ability to settle into long moments of concentration, sometimes called flow? Well, I think what happens is that the event horizon beyond which we perceive as the distant past gets closer and closer to the present. The present becomes more muddled and fuzzy. And the future begins to feel more like the present. Five years ago, for example, the distant past might have seemed like anything that happened more than three months ago. This year, it could be that, on average, the distant past feels like anything more than two weeks ago. Who knows? Maybe ten years from now, we won't even remember what we had for breakfast. Actually, I'm almost starting to feel like that now. It's a bit scary because while all of these new sources for information are capable of making us more informed and educated about what is going on in the world, the overabundance of high signal/low noise information channels is having a deep impact on our sense of time. People no longer have time to read books. Instead they read magazines. One can only already see signs of the trend spiraling downards with people replacing magazines for summaries of magazine articles, then summaries for summaries of summaries, leading ultimately to the famous image in the Matrix of green rivers of information literally flowing down the screen as fast as the eye can track them. Of course, I hope things don't turn out that way. I think, as a technologist, it's my duty and those of my peers to think carefully about the consequences of this new technological ecosystem we are building and how we can build better interfaces not only for filtering and summarizing information, but also to prioritize information and ideally tell us when enough is enough and it's time to go to bed.