ONCE, PHONE service came from a single company, computers were used only by rocket scientists and watching television meant choosing one of three major networks. Today, the information assault is on. There are long-distance phone companies in California alone. Computers have revolutionized everything from hand-held calculators to household appliances. And 1, TV stations crowd the airwaves.

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ONCE, PHONE service came from a single company, computers were used only by rocket scientists and watching television meant choosing one of three major networks. Today, the information assault is on.

There are long-distance phone companies in California alone. Computers have revolutionized everything from hand-held calculators to household appliances. And 1, TV stations crowd the airwaves. Want just the facts? If you went to the Library of Congress and looked at one book, manuscript or other library resource each minute eight hours a day, five days a week, it would take you more than years to see all 85,, items.

The size of the average American newspaper has more than doubled since to 91 pages, and we spend 45 minutes a day reading it--though that is just 10 minutes more than a decade ago.

The average Sunday paper in had pages; in it had Even convenience is increasingly complicated. One videocassette recorder--with 35 buttons on its remote control--takes salespeople about 45 minutes per customer to explain.

The instruction manual is 35 pages thick. Information anxiety is the black hole between data and knowledge. We are also made anxious by the fact that our access to information is often controlled by other people. We are dependent on those who design information, on the news editors and producers who decide what news we will receive, and by decision makers in the public and private sector who can restrict the flow of information.

Almost everyone suffers from information anxiety to some degree. We read without comprehending, see without perceiving, hear without listening. It can be experienced as moments of frustration with a manual that refuses to divulge the secret to operating a videocassette recorder or a map that bears no relation to reality. It can happen at a cocktail party when someone mentions the name Allan Bloom and the only person you know by that name is your dentist.

It can also be manifest as a chronic malaise, a pervasive fear that we are about to be overwhelmed by the very material we need to master to function in this world. Nodding your head knowingly when someone mentions a book, an artist or a news story that you have never heard of before. Looking down at your digital watch to jot down the exact time in an office building logbook even though you know that no one really cares. Giving time and attention to news that has no cultural, economic or scientific effect on your life.

We are bombarded with material from the media, from colleagues and from cocktail party conversation, all of which is delivered in the form of what we have been taught to think of as information. We are like a thirsty person who has been condemned to use a thimble to drink from a fire hydrant. The sheer volume of available information and the manner in which it is often delivered render much of it useless.

Unless you are aware of them, they will sabotage understanding. They afflict our ability to see things we have always seen but have never really seen. They obscure our path to learning. But by recognizing them, we can disarm their potential to mislead us.

The disease of familiarity. Familiarity breeds confusion. Those afflicted are the experts in the world who, so bogged down by their own knowledge, regularly miss the key points as they try to explain what they know. You ask them the time, and they tell you how to build a clock. We have all known teachers whom we consider extraordinarily bright, yet we cannot understand what they are saying. They fail to provide the doorknob or the threshold to each thought so that you can grapple with the learning connections along the journey.

Looking good is being good. The disease of looking good is confusing aesthetics with performance. A piece of information performs when it successfully communicates an idea, not when it is delivered in a pleasing manner.

Information without communication is no information at all. It is an extremely common, insidious malady among graphic designers and architects. The cure is to ask how something performs. The uh-huh syndrome.

This occurs when our fear of looking stupid outweighs our desire to understand. This only prevents us from learning and exacerbates our suspicion that everyone else knows more than we do. Unhealthy comparisons. Comparing unknowns or intangibles is uninformative; so is comparing things that have nothing in common. People warn of the dangers of comparing apples to oranges, when this is a perfectly reasonable comparison.

They share many common characteristics--both are globular fruit that grow on trees. An unhealthy comparison would be to compare the cost of a loaf of bread or a movie 50 years ago to the cost today. The dollar had a completely different value then. The informative value of this comparison is very little. Whereas healthy comparison is one of the most powerful informative tools--for example, comparing the cost of a loaf of bread relative to a movie 50 years ago and today. The cure is learning to go beyond the facts, to meaning, and to recognize the nature of the receiver.

Accuracy or facts do not necessarily make things understandable. Barometric pressure is another example. I would say there is one person in a thousand who knows how the barometric pressure is derived or what it means; yet weather commentators slavishly offer it in every forecast. Unnecessary exactitude. Rounding off is not a sin.

Not only is extreme accuracy not always information, it is often not necessary. For pilots, knowing the exact altitude of the plane is important. Sometimes detail prohibits you from seeing the bigger picture. Even the federal government permits rounding dollar amounts on tax forms. Rainbow worship, or adjectivitis. This is an epidemic belief that more color and more colorful language will increase understanding. This is particularly insidious in sports reporting, which has adapted the dramatic language of war.

Here today, gone today memory dysfunction. This is characterized by total memory loss one hour after learning something. The cramming of unnecessary information about unnecessary subjects for unnecessary examinations to get unnecessary grades. The cure is very simple; the key to learning is remembering what you are interested in and that through interest comes understanding.

Overload amnesia. This is a permutation of the here today, gone today memory dysfunction that occurs more specifically as a response to overloading yourself with data. When overtaxed, your memory will not only release the data that you were trying to retain but also may arbitrarily purge other files as well. This is often experienced when trying to assimilate data when you cannot control the flow, such as in a classroom, conference or lecture.

This is why, after listening to a particularly ponderous speech, not only can you not remember a thing the speaker said, but you forget where you parked your car, too. User-friendly intimidation. User-friendly has to be one of the most absurd terms in the language of technology. Like many other words in techno-talk, this usually means the opposite of itself. Any piece of hardware or software that has to be described as user-friendly is probably not.

Often the appearance of friendship with silly graphics is only camouflage for incoherent instructions. Besides, why should a computer be friendly? Some-assembly-required gambit. The expert-opinion syndrome. Take the second-opinion movement in medicine in which patients are encouraged to consult more than one doctor before undergoing non-emergency surgery. The popularity of the suspense genre in books and movies has encouraged people to extrapolate this to maintaining interest when conveying new information as a salesman does when unveiling a new product.

I think not knowing how something ends makes us apprehensive; it prohibits us from understanding how something was done while we frantically try to guess how it might end. People love Shakespeare because they know the endings; an opera is more pleasurable when you know the whole story before the curtain rises.

While suspense has its place, it does tend to induce anxiety, which is probably not an optimum state for receiving new information. If you know the ending, you can relax and enjoy the manner in which something is presented. Information impostors. This is nonsense that masquerades as information because it is postured in the form of information.

We automatically give a certain weight to data based on the form in which it is delivered. Why bother? Information impostors are the fodder for administrativitis.

This is a disease manifest in schools, institutions and big business where the individuals think that they are running the system but where the opposite is the case. It is characterized by a preoccupation with the details of the operation--administrative issues, salaries, square footage of office space and supplies--and a neglect of the purposes for operation.

It has reached global proportions and is the fundamental curse of our society. This is a condition characterized by the belief that a better building or a flashier annual report will solve all problems. Many a business has crumbled trying to improve its corporate headquarters instead of its corporation.


INFORMATION OVERLOAD : What to Do When Anxiety Cripples You

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Book Review: Information Anxiety

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information anxiety

We are limited by a language where words may mean one thing to one person and quite something else to another. There is no ordained right way to communicate. At least in the absolute sense, it is impossible to share our thoughts with someone else, for they will not be understood in exactly the same way. Richard Saul Wurman describes his work as the promotion of understanding. The following excerpts look at the problem of too much information, how we create understanding, and the beauty of what may be a lost art form: conversation.


Information Anxiety

Incredible book. Very thought-provoking, a must-read for anyone involved in communication. Brilliant ideas are so easily negated when communicated poorly. This book explores the nature of how we think and learn. Mine is Information Anxiety 1 , not the later revision. With the publication of his first book in at the age of 26, Richard Saul Wurman began the singular passion of his life: that of making information understandable. A holder of both M.

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