Rush Hour on the Information Superhighway

:: To feed my personal NYC obsession, I subscribe to Time Out New York. Although it arrives in my mailbox anywhere from 3-5 weeks after publication, I look forward to each issue. While its content keeps me up-to-date on All Things Pop Culture and All Things NYC, there are always well-written articles that pique my interest and result in further investigation on my part. In many cases, the articles are not necessarily NYC-centric either.

A recent example is the article, “Rush Hour on the Information Superhighway“, by Clive Thompson, which appeared in Issue No. 445 April 8–15, 2004.

A funny thing happened on the road to utopia. The Information Age promised greater efficiency, allowing us to explore new worlds online and enjoy more free time. Instead, we’re working longer hours and feeling more stressed as we drown in a tsunami of e-mail, blogs and Google searches. And nowhere is this pressure to stay connected more prevalent than in mediacentric New York.

Thompson succinctly addresses information bombardment and overload, focusing on four aspects: e-mail and spam, Google and googling, blogs, and TiVo (which, btw, isn’t available in Canada yet). As librarians and information specialists, we are bombarded with information from many sides every day. How do we deal with it? Often, we don’t – some, if not all of it flows over us like water off the back of a duck. We process a little of it. But being librarians, when we search for information we should know where and when to stop, and Thompson very correctly nails this in his discussion of searching:

That’s another conundrum of our age: New technologies seem only to amp up our desire for more. Consider Google. It is by all accounts an informational godsend. But since it offers hundreds of hits for even the most quixotic query, many people have no idea when to stop parsing the endless results, says Joseph Janes, chair of library and information science at the University of Washington’s Information School, who teaches a graduate seminar on the site and its impact on the culture. “It can make your life simpler, but it can also lead you down the path to perdition,” Janes adds. “You find things that point to things that point to things that point to things, and you wake up two hours later. Or maybe you’re looking for something that simply can’t be found on Google, and it takes you 45 minutes to figure that out.” Janes was trained as a librarian, and he says one thing librarians learn is when to stop: “We know when to declare victory—or to go home if the information just isn’t there.”

Consider that: knowing when to stop. It’s one of the many characteristics that define us as information and library professionals, and I think we should be proud of it.

BTW, the Time Out New York publishers and editors have quietly set a high standard for open access. They have uploaded the contents, except for listings of current events, of every issue since the magazine began publishing in 1995. New issues are archived online one month after publication. Issues can be browsed by date, and a search function is provided that allows keyword searching with the ability to restrict by section of the journal. As a good friend would say, totally brilliant. (NOTE: A slight variation of this post appears on Blogcritics.)

Leave a Reply

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5
This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5.