Wednesday, February 02, 2005

All the news that's fit to parse

I am overloaded with information about information overload, so I thought I would unload on you.

If it makes you feel better, info-overload actually has been around for a long time. "The multitude of books is a great evil," said Martin Luther in 1569. "There is no measure or limit to this fever for writing. Everyone must be an author; some out of vanity...others for the sake of mere gain."

The indomitable churchman, it should be noted, was a prolific author himself.

The book Information Anxiety reports that the Internet is doubling the production of information every four years, adding:

In one year, the average American will read or complete 3,000 notices and forms, read 100 newspapers and 36 magazines, watch 2,463 hours of television, listen to 730 hours of radio, buy 20 CDs, talk on the telephone almost 61 hours, read 3 books, and spend countless hours exchanging information in conversations.

And that was written before 10 million iPods were sold.

Let's face it: We can't keep our mouths shut, our ears un-speakered, our mitts off the keyboard and our hands off the remote control.

So, the helpful folks who know how to do such things believe that we may be able to train computers to slice, dice and customize information for us. Then, we would know what to read, write and think.

The vision of a bold, new world of automatically culled and exquisitely personalized information is brought to a computer screen near you by a fascinating, persuasive and alarming Flash video entitled EPIC. By all means, view it, even if it means hitting the traffic-clogged host site a few times to get through. (If all else fails, the script is posted below.)

Produced in their free time by Robin Sloan of Al Gore's and Matt Thompson of the Fresno Bee, the film is presented as though it were a historical documentary prepared in 2014. It tells how Google and Amazon merged to create a powerful Evolving Personalized Information Construct (hence, the name EPIC), which locates and packages information in a manner tailored to your unique profile and preferences.

The appeal of optimally personalized news is that you wouldn't waste time wading through extraneous information or contrary opinions. In the world of machine-hewn information, you could luxuriate in an orgy of Super Bowl XXXXVIII hype and not be troubled with any unsettling stuff from Iraq, or wherever the crackdown on evildoers takes us in 2014.

Machine-crafted news is a chilling idea. Without the benefit of an edited eye, readers will be overwhelmed with data, factoids and other miscellaneous information, but left without the slightest clue as to how to determine its context, accuracy or validity.

The choices for info-overloaded readers will be grim: Accept the automated news feed and hope for the best. Spend time trying to tease fact from fiction. Or -- this is likely to be the most popular -- fergedaboutit.

There is one other potential alternative: The Robin Good blog, edited by Luigi Canali De Rossi, suggests that over-optimized info recipients could hire newsmasters to help them. Newsmasters are defined as professionals who parse through the reams and streams of data produced every hour to find relevant information and analysis that they conveniently convey to their readers.

Back in 2005, we called them "journalists."


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