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Overload!: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization by Jonathan B. Spira

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CHAPTER 4

WHAT IS INFORMATION?

To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.

—Henry David Thoreau

The discussion around Information Overload thus far has seemingly ignored the large elephant in the room, namely, what exactly we mean when we talk about information.

While most people take it for granted, few can define the term. The fact is the word “information” in English is rather flexible, and it means many things to many people.

To borrow from Justice Potter Stewart, who was writing about the difficulty of defining “obscenity,” I know information when I see it.

The reason information is important is because human beings have had to communicate with one another since the dawn of civilization. From cave paintings and oral history to the beginnings of a written tradition, mankind has documented and recorded that which is important and left it for future generations.

An increase in the human population, combined with improved tools for sharing information (starting with the tablet, paper, movable type, and going all the way into the computer age), has resulted in more information being created today than perhaps anyone had ever anticipated. What haven’t been developed in lockstep with this are tools that allow us to filter information so we get both what we need but also what we can absorb.

Despite great technological advances, we actually understand very little about how to manage information. Until we do learn more about ...

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