We Live in an “Open Book” World, the Lie of Information Overload

In school, there were two kinds of tests. The regular kind where you learned and memorized all you could and then did your best on the test. The 2nd kind was the Open Book Test. Where you could use your notes and text books to figure out the answer to a question.

The 2nd was always preferable to the first because it was always a lot easier to prepare reference than to memorize.

Come finals time, a schedule of traditional tests meant packaging hours and hours to study. It was the ultimate experience of Information Overload. It also was the quickest way to forget everything you just learned the minute the tests were over. In fact, if you hung out with my friends and me, the minute tests were over, every penny we had was destined to be spent on beverages that killed more than a few braincells.

Today, life is so much simpler. I can’t remember the last time I had to go to the library or bookstore to search for a book on a topic that was important to me. I can’t remember the last time I HAD to invest the time to read a book as opposed to choosing to read a book that I wanted to read.

There was a time when I would scour online forums looking for any information that would give me an edge. Those days are long gone.

Today, I still read a ton of magazines that I both enjoy and which give me a solid foundation of information that help me professionally and personally, but I don’t stress that I might miss something. I don’t stress if I don’t read an issue immediately when it comes out, or if I’m out of town when its delivered. I used to.

Two things have changed dramatically over the past 5 years. The first is that search engines have matured to the point where just about everything is indexed, from webpages to books to videos. Life has become an open book test. Between Google for News, video and web, Live.com for images, Icerocket.com for blog and RSS and Amazon for books, its pretty easy to find everything and anything from anywhere. It doesn’t matter if I’m in front of my PC, or sitting on an airplane or just with my phone at a game. Information is available.

The 2nd is the threading of information. Sites like Techmeme connect articles so that its easy to not only keep up with technology topics of interest, but to follow related conversations. Techmeme like sites are popping up for most vertical categories, so keeping up is far far easier than the old days of waiting for your PC Week , InfoWorld and Computer Reseller News !

Information overload is having to read everything and remember it. Open Book life means knowing where to look to catch up when you are ready to catch up.. I will take the Open Book Life anytime

30 thoughts on “We Live in an “Open Book” World, the Lie of Information Overload

  1. Is memorizing really unimportant? How can one achieve their goals without being able to memorize some form of data or information? I understand the fact that for many professions out in the work place the need to memorize information is a lesser need than to be able to analyze and process such information. The example used to illustrate that memorization isn’t entirely relevant, a lawyer, is a hasty generalization. To be a good lawyer one must be able to memorize and in fact be really good at that given skill. In order to become a lawyer, one must attend years and years of school. School in present day, is based almost entirely on memorizing. As a junior at the University of Washington, I have spent my entire life memorizing. Memorizing multiplication tables, grammar, spelling, themes of books, not even mentioning all the everyday tasks needed in today’s society. The ability to memorize given information is a skill needed to succeed in the world in which we inhabit.
    With the creation of the internet, the world has slowly become more and more ‘virtual’. Vast amounts of information have been uploaded onto countless web pages, and all of which are easily accessed by search engines. Does this ability to access all this information really make it more useful? Or has the information always been useful but in present times more people are now able to access all this information? The uploading of information to online resources doesn’t make it any more useful, in fact it just allows for more people to access such data. This ability to obtain information creates a world in which everyone is able to retrieve and use this information in order to enhance one’s own knowledge. Does going ‘virtual’ lead to other issues, like that of posting false information? In the past all information and knowledge is passed through that of books, magazines and other paper sources, and in order for your book to be printed the information within it had to be edited and approved by a given publishing company. This process allowed for a buffer step where if the information was in fact of untrue nature, the information wouldn’t be published. With everything going ‘virtual’ and no editing is required to post such information, a new era where anyone can put anything up and say it’s true has arrived. Back to the question of is ‘virtual’ information more useful because of the speed in which one can access it, no. This virtual world has just opened up the possibility for people of all geographic locations and means the ability to access information, nothing more.

    Comment by tralice -

  2. I totally believe having questions answered and information available right away improves my life and anyone else\’s and no doubt with Google and others out there I\’m having a great time – \’information overload\’ is getting the wrong information or no information to the questions we need answered I feel less loaded today than I used to.

    I also think if you need to learn something from scratch you still have to discipline to do it in a heirarchical from easy to intermediate approach i.e. a beginner book or tutorial not the web but I think people fight that more these days because the more associative free way you can do it on the Web is addictive – but once you get over that the Web will get you to excellent fast if you use it.

    Comment by Mark Jones -

  3. Hi !

    I have just understood ! I must click on \”next 20 comments\” ! lol !

    ROFLMAO… ! Can an admin delete the messages 26 and 27 (and also this latest) for me please ? Thanks !

    Comment by Christelle -

  4. I don\’t understand… When I confirm my comment by clicking on the URL in the confirmation e-mail, my comment appear.

    But, if I shut off Internet Explorer et reopen the web-site my comment don\’t appear.

    Then, I have posted twice the same comment… Those 2 comments have appeared in the confirmation e-mail, but no one at all appear after shut off Internet…

    I am really sorry… Can an admin delete one of my two comments and also explain me the problem, please. Thank you !!

    Comment by Christelle -

  5. 25. Simply be as much selective as you can when you do research in the Internet. Example, if you type animal in Google… lol… your nights without sleeping will not suffice to proceed all the info… If you type cat, it is already a littly better. But, cat + food + cares is far more better.

    My example seems laughable, but it is the true when we search something on the internet… !

    Comment by Christelle -

  6. Simply be as much selective as you can when you do research in the Internet. Example, if you type animal in Google… lol… your nights without sleeping will not suffice to proceed all the info… If you type cat, it is already a littly better. But, cat + food + cares is far more better.

    My example seems laughable, but it is the true when we search something on the internet… !

    Comment by Christelle -

  7. Times have really changed and will only keep changing very quickly. I like having all the information at the tip of my fingertips but all of the information available can be overwhelming.

    Comment by Patricia Beck -

  8. While it\’s true the internet gives us right now information when we need it, I\’m not certain it has lessened the effects of information overload. Processing the information into applicable knowledge seems to be missing in our technologically advanced society. It is a rare occurence to have a luncheon meeting or dinner where someone is not beeping or ringing. Email, SMS and texting have replaced converstaion. Maybe it\’s not information overload, but sensory overload, which prevents us from processing the information.

    Comment by IndyAgent -

  9. Gregory makes a very, very interesting point. With the vast amount of information that is out there (good and bad) it makes it possible for a person to get the information he or she wants in amazing speed. I recently purchased a new notebook computer and when I took it home and tried to add a printer I found out the manufacturer failed to load the proper files that would enable me to add a printer. I was pretty dissappointed and thought for sure I would need to take it in for tech support.

    I then decided to Google the term \”How to add a printer to Windows Vista\” and within 10 minutes I learned how to add the files that would then allow me to add a printer to my computer. It was comlex enough that I could not have done it without a step by step guidline.

    Not that long ago one would have had to rely on tech support to accomplish what I was able to accomplish in 10 minutes. I agree with Gregory when he asks what is the value of a college degree when this vast amount of information is available to anyone that has access to the internet?

    I have witnessed high school dropouts and high school graduates do very well in the business world in my community. I am not advocating dropping out of high school and I am certainly not devaluing the value of a college degree but it is a very interesting subject and causes one to pause and think.

    Comment by George Tallabas -

  10. Open-book = free and available, the meaning of nowadays Internet, free online tv, news, sports scores, reading Blog Maverick, the whole world in your computer screen.

    Comment by Ivanovic Tennis -

  11. I noticed that you listed Google for Video Search.
    But why is it that Google Video Search *ONLY* indexes Google Video and YouTube? It is like saying Google indexes pages for two or its own services, but at the same time provides an internet search engine with these two resutlts.

    I would not call Google a video search engine. AOL, Yahoo, Live.com, and most of the other video search engines, provide video search results from *ALL* video services out there.

    Comment by Dave -

  12. What an interesting way to get people interested in reading! Book trailers are like movie trailers, but for books! You can find them all over the internet now, but here is a site that\’s featuring them on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/booktrailers

    Comment by sandeepshimpi -

  13. Great blog!

    In reality, most post graduate studies is exactly about this. Once past basic academic learning, the rest is no longer about learning or memorizing, but mostly about how to access information when you need it. The internet has closed the gap in the 12-20 years of schooling into a matter of few months! We have in this age of the internet brought closer the gap in our academic learning curve! Today, its possible for a young student to get access and learn more faster than an adult post graduate student of 10 years ago.

    Comment by Mitchell -

  14. Because I was made to memorize lots of things, and was led to believe that memorizing lots of stuff meant you were really intelligent kind of worried me a lot (cause I don\’t have a great capacity for retaining data). It wasn\’t until I was about 15 or so that someone told me this was nonsense. That to be a good lawyer (as he had studied) you need to know where to go to find what you need and then be able to understand it (as well as, of course, to be able to research, analyze and put forward a case). In a flash, I suddenly realized that memorizing wasn\’t everything at all, and that I didn\’t have to worry about the future as much as I did back then!

    Comment by Eamon -

  15. Having access to information and knowing what to do with the data are two different things. A long time ago very successful business man told me, and I quote, \”the people who know HOW always works for the person that knows WHY.\” The person who knows or can lookup any piece of code needed to make a portable music player function always works for the person who had the vision. That vision can come from both academia and just plain life experiences. To put it another way, C students hire A students to supervise and manage B students although I would argue exposure to college is always good. Bill Gates, Steven Jobs and others became billionaires without completing college. I suspect they did get something out of attending the higher learning institutes. Mark Cuban is a college graduate and he can speak better on the subject of how he benefited by obtaining a degree. To get back to Mark Cuban\’s topic, I believe we have an information overload. There are messages and information coming from multiple voicemail systems, multiple email accounts, instant messaging as well as all news and all sports channels, PDA\’s, Kindle (wireless electronic book device) and iPhones, I suppose everyone has to develop a system of their own for filtering the information to make it useful for their own use; regardless of whether lifes test is called opened or closed book. \”The road to knowledge begins with the turn of the page.\” Anonymous

    Comment by Rodney -

  16. I find this a little bit troubling. There seems some undeniable truth to the fact that \”information overload\”- an ugly way to describe brain-locked knowledge- is outdated in the digital world. However, as a current college student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I find myself constantly disillusioned with my peers\’ inability to process what they find. Truly, we are the \”open book\” generation, and yet, there seems a tremendous disconnect between the ability to access and the ability to analyze. In fact, isn\’t this why we feign confidence in the growing capacity of computers? We comfort ourselves that analysis is the sole domain of humans, that our research tools are only that- tools. I can\’t help but feel that there is a correlation today between reliance on digital information tools and an inability to properly think in a global or analytical away. Perhaps this correlation is neither unavoidable nor causal, but I think this line of thinking needs carefeul consideration.

    Comment by Dan -

  17. Mark,
    Here is a little site that I have recently discovered that I now check every day. The site is: http://www.slashgear.com. I ended up sitting next to the founder of the site on a plane trip while he was writing an article for 7 different phones for a \”top phones of 2007 beach shoot\” that he was doing in Hawaii. It\’s a fun site and good way to keep up on all the latest tech gadgets and tech rumors out there. If any of your blog readers have better/alternative sites similar to this, I would love to hear them so that I can add them to my list.


    Comment by Lance -

  18. Even public libraries are coming online these days, there is the reason why everything goes \’virtual\’ and it\’s called usefullness, more information at your reach in faster time frame. On the internet, you don\’t need to get up from the chair to go for something, you don\’t need to ask someone where something is thanks to the search engines, search engines are almost as if an artifical inteligence.

    Comment by 51buy -

  19. There still is a lot of good information at your public library – but the only people reading it there look sort of homeless. i agree to this comment

    Comment by foto -

  20. It is interesting how the nature of knowledge has changed. In many ways the internet transforms the interaction of knowledge and power because everyday folks have a greater say. This posting calls to mind the high school debates in math class over calculators.

    However, it also overlooks the twin possibilities that school exists to keep people out of the workforce for a while (while providing limited skills) and to rank people. Setting aside tech successes, most everyone else will be where their parents were, especially the grads of the \”Evil Eight.\” College isn\’t about learning. That\’s why playing PS3 all day and chugging beer is featured everywhere and without interrupting the flow.

    Comment by Jon D -

  21. Even public libraries are coming online these days, there is the reason why everything goes \’virtual\’ and it\’s called usefullness, more information at your reach in faster time frame. On the internet, you don\’t need to get up from the chair to go for something, you don\’t need to ask someone where something is thanks to the search engines, search engines are almost as if an artifical inteligence.

    Comment by Sport -

  22. Mark,
    Very pointed comments, \” information overload\” is an empty concept.
    We have the luck to live at a time where anyone can pretty much find anything, anywhere at anytime about any topics.

    In my opinion, the failure of the education system come from not giving students the proper analytical tools to process the huge amount of information and knowledge available.

    It does create a feeling of anxiety for some people unless they come to the understanding, that absolutly nobody \” master\” this incredible mass of data, at least not from a memory stand point. You just need to learn how to \” navigate\” the information flow.

    Comment by Gilbert Mercier -

  23. Yeah, there\’s not point learning something like math since calculators can do it all for you… Why hire a system admin if the docs are all online? Can\’t the receptionist just look it up and do it? Wikipedia has lots of medical information too!

    It\’s easy to forget how much you \”learned how to learn\” from your early experience. And part of that \”closed book\” test is pure repetition and practice. It\’s not exciting, just plain old work. But it forms the basis of experience used for later expansion.

    Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, so you should use that sample size to base the relevance of a college education.

    Comment by Mikeh -

  24. In response to \”is College is now pointless?\” as a current college student at Northeastern University (which gives me the opportunity to work full time for six months and go to school for six months)I have to say that college has nothing to do with learning. The act of going to college and obtaining a piece of paper saying that you learned something is dfferent from knowing how to learn. College is not pointless, but it is at the same time. It is up to the type of person to determine what they will walk away with. Is graduating with $120,000 worth of debt a great way to start my adult life?…no! But in this society do I have a choice? As an entrepreneur I don\’t need the diploma as I cringe at the thought of corporate environment, but I am going to get it anyway. It\’s sad really, but that piece of paper will give me leverage throughout my life that I would not have as a high school dropout. I think the bigger question in today\’s world is: is grad school still worth it?

    Comment by Dan -

  25. Drawing from your analogy; open book tests are considerably harder than closed book tests. Having an open book means the questions can be considerably more difficult than just definitions and content that could be memorized. It means you have to put to use the knowledge in some application.

    That is why I like the prospects of an \”Open Book World\”, it levels the playing field. Information is power, and the open book distributes that power to those who work hard and get it, not to those holding all the keys to the walled garden.

    Comment by Troy -

  26. There still is a lot of good information at your public library – but the only people reading it there look sort of homeless.

    Comment by thomason -

  27. I\’m an Oracle database administrator, and reading the phrase \”Life is an open book test\” rang quite true with me. There\’s simply too many arcane commands, too many platform configurations, too many error messages to even bother memorizing. I have memorized many of the things I do daily as well as those commands I need to get down systems up quickly – but beyond that I memorize only concepts and general architecture so I know where to look in the references as needed.

    @Gregory – I dropped out of high school and never completed more than a dozen college credits, and I have thrived professionally for a decade in my profession. I have always perceived college (especially liberal arts) as a test of endurance not intellectuality. Maybe when I\’m 60 I\’ll get a degree.

    Comment by Michael O\'Shaughnessy -

  28. @Gregory: College is not pointless. I don\’t see that ever happening. Education will always be valuable. Sure, there are those who don\’t find the need for a formalized education, but even the case you mentioned was an educated person–he simply chose to educate himself in a non-institutionalized way.

    Comment by Scott Johnson -

  29. That\’s my question to you, Mark. Following along with Gregory\’s train of thought above, what are your thoughts on the worth of information, now that marginal cost is essentially zero? How is the commodity of institutionalized education worth the charges that one would incur by attending a university at this point in time?

    Comment by Amin Issa -

  30. With the wide availability of information today, is College is now pointless? Is the ROI worth piling up on student loan debt? Is it better for people to work and learn through a combination of experience and self-learning? What will be the future make up of a persons credentials?

    Is a high school drop-out whose managed to build a net worth of 1 million dollars a better candidate for a finance job than a student who managed to graduate from a tier 1 business school but has $80,000 in loans and debt that are going to linger in the bank of his mind, and keep him from focusing on work 100%? (Imagine both candidates being the same age)

    Comment by Gregory Rueda -

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