Company sets focus on 'information overload'

July 21, 2008 8:45:34 AM PDT
If you don't get a reply to your email message within 24 hours, you won't get a reply at all. That's one of the conclusions presented at the first-ever official conference on Information Overload held this week in New York.

On Teresa Lunt's shoulder is her desk phone, in her left hand is her cell phone and beneath her right hand is a computer mouse.

"You know, I still feel like I'm inundated with information," she says in exasperation.

"It's happening to everybody. Everybody's being bombarded with more information than they can digest."

Teresa's company recently joined the first industry-wide working group devoted to Information Overload. According to the group's work, it turns out the problem isn't that there's too much information; it's that it arrives (1) at the wrong time, and (2) at the wrong place. In other words, it's information that interrupts us.

Research firm Basex has calculated that interruptions due to unnecessary information waste 28% of the typical workday, and cost the U.S. economy $650 billion per year.

Think about it. Not long ago, it was impossible to be interrupted while driving. Today, however, technology has given us so many new ways to be interrupted. Take email.

"It's very easy," adds Lunt, "for people to just mail you everything, because it's too hard for them to pick out just the nugget that you need to know. It's also too hard for them to tell you only right when you need it. It's impossible. They don't know when you're going to need it."

As Director of the Computer Science Lab at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Teresa Lunt is leading a project to create a new kind of network for information.

A network that provides it only when and where you need to know it -- context-based services.

"Part of the context is: I'm in this meeting room, it's this time of day, I have a calendar entry. What are the documents I should have show up right there on my laptop? That's context," says Lunt.

Commerical software is a few years away, but it's already being tested at PARC. Lunt has more information she'd like to share. But this really isn't a good time.

------- Links -------

Information Overload Research Group

PARC - Palo Alto Research Center


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