Are Filters Increasing Information Overload?

I started teaching this semester, which is one of the reasons my blog activity has slowed so much. I’m afraid I haven’t been doing much long-form reading either.

But I just put Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” at the top of my summer reading list.

Carr just blogged—counter intuititively—that information filters increase information overload, rather than relieving it. Simplified, his argument goes like this:

* Information filters, like Google, have relieved situational overload—the ability to find a particular piece of information quickly and easily.

* At the same time, however, filters (from Twitter follows to Facebook recommendations) increase our ambient overload because we now have SO MUCH information of immediate interest available to us that it is hard to keep up with it all.

The fact that I haven’t found the time to read Carr’s book is a perfect example of “ambient overload.” And it was a filter that reminded me about “The Shallows” (which was released last June); a friend I respect gave the book a “thumbs up” on Facebook.

“Mindset Before Message”—understanding the mindset of your audience before crafting a message for that audience—is one of the lessons I try to teach my students.

Carr’s work—including his 2008 Atlantic article, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?”—reminds me that I have to broaden that lesson to include how the Internet is changing the basic ways that audiences think.