In low tech local environment where an overwhelming majority is still struggling to access and find required information, there are some high end-users who are already complaining of information overload.
Busy executives, decision makers and other people taking advantage of computing in work and meaningful pursuits need all the quality information they can get. They turn to the web because it has amassed huge amounts of information in almost all areas of human activities. But what is information in the first place? Technically speaking, “information is stimuli that have meaning in some context for its receiver. When information is entered into and stored in a computer, it is generally referred to as data – information translated into a form that is more convenient to move or process. When information is packaged or used for understanding or doing something, it is known as knowledge – to an enterprise or an individual, the possession of information or the ability to quickly locate it.” For the purpose here, I think the term ‘information’ is the correct description of some of what is available on the web, rather than knowledge or wisdom.
Advances in web technologies and their growing usage have made the production, distribution, and sharing of information so much easier than what it was only a decade ago. It has reduced the time span of business practices and processes, which would otherwise have taken very long time to be implemented on ground. But information comes with an additional excess of irrelevant junk, unclear and inaccurate data, even conflicting, making it becomes difficult to sift what is important from what is not. This “excess information beyond what is desired or needed by any user requiring non productive processing” is called information overload. The number of work hours available and the inherent human capacity to absorb information have remained almost same over years whereas the need to access, understand and digest information had gone up many times.
Local market scouting reveals that most economic concerns have yet not fully appreciated possibilities offered by IT. Notable exceptions apart, computer technologies have not been integrated within corporate systems as of yet.
For many a CEO, president and chairman of companies the connected computers set on their tables are just another part of office equipment only to be used by others. But for inspiring examples that have taken the initiative and employed the technology, information is moving from being a marginal, specialist responsibility to being a central part of every business operation. Demand for executives, managers and employees, in these futuristic organisations, to become more aware of and prepared for handling the opportunities being offered by growing information has increased.
In this milieu, high end users are getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of information from multiple sources. What is more, sometime the required information is not at the surface. It is often difficult to understand if a web article is just a sales-pitch, self-serving opinion, a research study skewed by producers and sponsors with something to gain or is it factual. There is a lot of crap in other forms. Even search engines are selling result placements.
Having quality information in time is good and productive. With more and more information coming from so many different sources, users must be able to determine the quality of information before putting it to use. But determining quality can be tough. Many users are not particularly good at managing and filtering information that comes their way. Technologies so far can handle quantity but are still not mature enough to recognize quality of information. Which is why information overload gets unhelpful for those who are facing it? The avalanche of information, as per experts, in extreme cases may lead to unwanted results in the form of stress, frustration or physical illness.
“The situation is worst where organizations are in transition – changing from the old style of handling information to IT or where IT dependent new generation of executives is taking over family business enterprises,” says Dr. Norbert, an architect who uses the internet to do businesses in field of call centres. “I have to keep up to date on the technology sector. I have to review feedback from clients and also see what competitors are doing by visiting their web sites, reading online press releases and newsletters.
The information that I get is one of the most important tools in my sales game but I am afraid that I miss so much,” he adds.
David, an astute businessman running a money-changing concern in Lahore, has two computer screens on his work desk (also a number of telephones and mobile phone sets). Sometimes his assistants bring yet other mobile for him to answer when he is trying to focus on the rapidly rising and falling currency rates in the world money market. He also has to answer chat signals from fellow money changers and continuously watch what is coming in his inbox, sometimes firing off instant replies. He says, “Given the nature of my business and rapid fluctuation in currency rates I have to keep a constant watch on the global money market. This is what I do last thing before going to bed and first when I get up in the morning before coming to the office.
In addition, I also have to follow important events in the world that can cast tangible effects on economies of the world. But it is difficult to keep track of it all. I want sometime to myself but it is really not possible in this line of business.” Before employing IT, the first piece of paper Senta Kurt used to face each morning after coming in his office was a previous day inventory report from three different tent and canvas products manufacturing and exporting units he is managing in Kot Lakhpat.
“Before we employed IT, night staff used to produce required inventory report. Now my inventory is on networked computers and is up-to-date all the time. I can see it any time. Basing on this I can shift resources from one unit to another and control production. But when it comes to information required for running my business in global market, it sometime is daunting to find what I am looking for and to weed through the junk.” There must be an equilibrium point somewhere. Users have to define precisely what they need and in how much detail. There are technological fixes like using filters, email managers, favourites and the like to prioritize the coming information. Some other intriguing technologies to how people mine the Internet for information are in the pipe. But technical solutions alone may not be enough. “They can sometime aggravate the overload problem, because instead of how much one needs, they make it possible to get more. But given enough time and practice, one gets wise in distinguishing what is important in any particular field,” thinks Umar Manzoor.
In response to a query, Tatiana Andronache, Canadian Information Systems Professional emailed, “Information Overload is a fascinating phenomenon every web user experience at least some of the times. I have no idea what humankind is going to do with all the information: writings, analysis, images, sound tracks, movies, websites, you name it. People do not seem to be healthier, richer or happier because they have them. At a personal level, I deal through prioritizing, time-boxing and, when possible, multi-tasking.
What gets done, gets done, what not – oh, well! I avoid time suckers such as surfing the internet (I go to sites where I have business and finish quickly), no forums, chats, very little TV. Radio is a favourite because does not tie me up.” The first step to combat possible information overload is to identify the needs and take control. There is no universal formula fitting for users of different areas of interest therefore everyone may make own road map and shortcuts. “Knowing what is needed and cutting out unnecessary clutter outside the desired scope saves a lot of time,” says Dr. Norbert. Then users should decide what is manageable while taking into account time availability, ability to absorb and retain information. This involves establishing limits to the information hunting process and allows doing first thing first. The users should also realize when to stop gathering information and move on to making use of it. And acknowledge that none can get to know everything.