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

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CHAPTER 6

WHAT IS INFORMATION OVERLOAD?

There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.

—Bertrand Russell

“Information Overload” describes an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks. Peter Miles, executive vice president of BMW of North America, told me that “it’s a scourge of modern day society.”

Larry Thaler, at the time a vice president at NBC Universal, described to me how he was trying to cope. “I was working on a process map. The process map had a lot of little boxes . . . on the screen. And while I’m doing this, little e-mails are popping up breaking my concentration, driving me bananas. I couldn’t believe how much I would lose my place. I had to turn off the function and ultimately I realized how distracting all of this is.”

Information is the new currency of our society (at one point in civilization, it was salt) yet, instead of being scarce, workers are drowning in an overabundance of it. A typical worker on a typical day gets hundreds of e-mails, instant messages, phone calls (office phone and mobile phone), and text messages, not to mention the vast amount of content that he has to contend with that arrives in other forms.

Amy Wohl, a leading thinker and pundit in office automation and knowledge work who knows more than most about e-mail and information management, has also been impacted. “Information Overload impacts me by making it absolutely impossible for me to ever get through ...

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