Saturday, May 14, 2011

Infoxication: More Is Less

By ALFONS CORNELLÁSome time ago I was bold enough to coin a new term in Spanish which has enjoyed a certain degree of success: infoxicación. I invented this word -whose literal equivalent in English would be infoxication- to describe information overload, or information intoxication, i.e. when you have more information to process than is humanly possible and suffer anxiety as a result. The technical term is information fatigue syndrome. Infoxication is now a very real problem in our society - although this also makes it a great source of opportunities. When I coined the term, Google did not yet exist. Spam was still just an idea in the head of some ignored visionary. The situation today is far worse than we could ever have imagined.

In terms of the quantity of information you receive per second, broadband just keeps on getting fatter and fatter. We are constantly bombarded by stimuli from emails, audio recordings, videos, telephones and text messages. It is getting easier and easier to send a byte wherever you like. However, the critical human information parameter, attention, is the complete opposite of broadband: the amount of time we can devote to each input is getting less and less, because we have to divide the finite amount of time we have available among more and more information components. It is our attention that is in short supply.

We need to design tools to cut down the information noise we receive and make our attention time more productive. In fact, we already have tools to do this, but we don't use them properly. For example, we can use RSS feeds to automatically receive updates from websites of interest to us without having to visit them. This is a far-reaching evolution from mass media to my media. The trouble is being selective enough when signing up for these services.

In my opinion, the critical issue is communicating more effectively. It is about synthesising the message and presenting it more attractively, combining text and images and any other format that enriches it and aids comprehension. Telling stories rather than giving information. Matching what you want to communicate with the attention time of the person receiving it, i.e. knowing when to catch them when they are in the best frame of mind to digest the information being sent. Presenting information in a handy, appetising diet, since it is fresh information that surprises us, not what we already know. Because information that arrives with no criteria or interest is simply noise. Irritating noise.

I also recommend Sergio Fanjul's recent article on the same topic in Spanish: Atentos a todo ... y a nada. cmg

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