Filter Failure

Clay Shirky suggests that there’s no such thing as information overload, only filter failure. This is a very modern response to an older question. Futurist Alvin Toffler warned us about information overload, popularizing the phrase. It’s an extension of the idea of sensory overload, the idea that too much input could overwhelm and paralyze you. This is based on the faulty assumption that brains are information processing machines, and that we can overwhelm and crash them. …

Knowledge is too big, messy and wildly unsettled, just like the internet. “For every fact on the internet, there is an equal and opposite fact.” David [Weinberger] warns that there is nothing we all agree on – you can find someone willing to argue that 2+2 is not 4 (and, indeed, a quick Google search shows this to be true.) We don’t agree about anything, and David warns, we never will. “This doesn’t mean there are no facts – but it does mean that people are going to insist on being wrong.”

“Networked knowledge may or may not be truer about the world, but is is truer about knowing… This crazy approach to knowledge feels familiar to us, because it’s how we tend to know.” [Weinberger] closes with an observation that’s both hopeful and unsettling: “What we have in common is a shared world about which we disagree, not a common knowledge we share and can collectively come to.”

— snippets from Ethan Zuckerman’s heroic liveblogging during the book launch of Too Big to Know by David Weinberger.

2 comments

  1. thornet · February 4, 2012

    Austin Kleon: “You are a mashup of what you let into your life.”

  2. a j marr · February 4, 2012

    If fault is to be found with Shirky, as well as almost all other internet pundits on information overload, it is in their premises, not their conclusions. Almost all hold the implicit assumption that humans are sensitive to information as static facts. However, if informed by the most recent findings from affective neuroscience on human decision making, this position cannot be true.

    Specifically, Shirky (and nearly all of his peers) hold to positions that are not neurally realistic, and would have to abandon much of their opinions (and specifically the reality of information overload) if they were informed by the recent findings in affective neuroscience on how human minds actually process and choose information. Surprisingly, this argument can be made quite simply, and is made (link below) using an allegory of the Boston Red Sox pennant run over the years.

    http://mezmer.blogspot.com/2012/02/searching-for-red-stockings-myth-of.html

    (Alas, my argument at three pages is a bit long for a comments section, but perhaps not as a link.)

    A. J. Marr