Help, We’re Being Digitally Bombarded

I love the Web and the fascinating number of useful and useless tools but it can also a huge time-suck and productivity killer.

Like many digital animals, the Web constantly seduces you. Just when you’ve got e-mail and IM within your communications arsenal, you’re using Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed. Then, you’ve got Digg,, GMail, Google Reader, Mixx, et al to track and bookmark it all.

At some point, it’s overwhelming. It’s impossible to be everywhere and anywhere, and embrace all the tools being used by the digerati. At some point, you just have to pick you digital weapons, and stick with them.

As someone immersed within the digital world, I thought I was alone in my “digital overload” thesis until seeing TechCrunch’s Erik Schonfeld on Friendfeed introducing an instant-messaging tool.

FriendFeed ultimately is a communication platform, so adding IM was inevitable. But please kill me now. Just the thought of getting a ping every 30 seconds when anyone I follow on FriendFeed decides to Twitter, blog, add a photo to Flickr, share something on Google Reader, or any of the dozens of other actions across the Web FriendFeed monitors is overwhelming. I need less noise in my life, not more noise.

Schonfeld is as wired as anyone. The guy pumps out multiple blog post a day to feed the TechCrunch machine, and I imagine that his in-box is overflowing. So for him to declare the need for less noise is perhaps an indication that something’s up.

My read is consumers of digital services and content are being swamped, and madly scrambling to keep up. As a result, I think there’s going to be a growing demand for tools that filter and synthesize things to reduce the amount of noise.

Now, this could be a new application – and I’m sure there are smart people working on the noise problem as we speak. It may also be an issue of self management whereby digital animals learn to make their lives easier, more efficient and less noisy.

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  • Louis Gray

    Mark I agree and disagree, of course. My feeling is that tools like FriendFeed and Twitter always give you the option to turn up the noise or turn down the noise. It makes sense that both are looking to deliver firehose options that deliver content in real-time no matter where you are. (IM, Mobile, Web, you name it)

    But just because they offer these solutions doesn’t mean we have to adopt the bleeding edge. There will be a core of users who digs it and a larger group that stays with the status quo.

    You can break through the noise by following the right folks (or fewer folks), by filtering services, and getting them at your leisure, not as they come in. But the option to stomp on the accelerator is there when you want to, and I think that option is great.

    A response to your post here:
    You Control Your Online Noise Velocity

  • Mack D. Male

    I have to agree with Louis. The great thing about these services is that you can pay as much or as little attention as you want. On some days I pay full attention to Twitter all day long, while on others I just ignore it.

    I turned on the FriendFeed IM service to see what it was like, and quickly changed my settings to only notify me of comments on my own items. It’s cool to know that I can turn it on when I want to though.

  • Mark Evans


    I hear you on controlling the noise. My approach is I limit the number of channels I’m listening to. And, even then, I’m in and out depending how much time I have.

  • Titanas

    I keep listening the same thing about the noise from people all the time. It’s the fundamental right to express our opinions and repeat as much as we want. There is no noise! It’s like going to or techmeme and ask to post articles about Barack’s Obama win only from the NYT and the WSJ because pretty much everybody else say and
    comment the same thing and create noise.

    It’s how we perceive information and how we consume it. There is no noise. We simply choose to follow or not, read blogs or not, read RSS or not like we do in everyday life with only certain people as friends, certain people as acquaintances, certain people as family etc. In real life we don’t talk about noise and if someone talk too much within a certain group we try to avoid him next time we go out. Instead we want to keep everybody in our twitter cycle and ask the ones we perceive as noisy to change their behavior. We need to master our digital Eg0.

  • George Nimeh

    Nice post.

    I think this is all incredibly positive. The fact is, the more we share, the better we will become. But I also think that we need much better and simpler ways to control all this information. Right now, it’s like trying to manage a Sky+ HD box with a Zenith Space Command. Surely, this can be better.

    More here, if you’re interested:


  • Daniel Tunkelang

    I think the problem is not that we don’t have control of how we allocate our attention, but rather that we haven’t figured out a way to optimize that allocation. I think that’s to be expected of any new media technology, and of course online communication is evolving so rapidly that it’s hard to optimize against a moving target.

    Clay Shirky’s recent keynote at Web 2.0 NYC, “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure,” is sort of on this topic. My commentary (and a link to the video) at

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  • Fred Brandenberg

    The late and great Herber Simon wrote, way back in 1971, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

    I think we are safe until the day that they start trying to stream information into us while we sleep…now that would be a killer app! I’m joking of course. Maybe the Internet will make us all like the Alex of A Clockwork Orange, however no one is binding us to a chair, nor using tootpicks to keep our eyes wide open, we do it willingly. Let’s hope that 90% of our brain they keep telling us is unused really is usable. The one part of the problem that I don’t think anyone can ever solve, is that most of the information, if not 99% of it, is not verifyable and could simply be made up junk. We don’t have time to evaluate all of the pieces of data, so the chance of false information can easily spread like wildfire. That’s probably why spam is such widespread.

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  • Mark

    Too much info is an old problem. See Clay Shirky’s speech at web2.0NY — “It’s not too much information. It’s filter failure.”

    Smart people indeed.

  • David

    Isn’t the problem obvious? We all added dozens (if not hundreds or even thousands) of people who aren’t really our friends.

    And now that we’ve created these lists of people who we are following, we’re swamped with info.

    The average person does not deal with this. It’s only the techno-elite.

  • Paul

    Luckily most of the info out there goes away. Just like this post will. There is an 99% chance that the person who maintains the blog will read it, a 50% chance that anyone who reads the article will read it and like a 0.001% chance that anyone else will read it. And every day that passes, the chances diminish. Luckily the web is a great garbage disposal. If a search engine like Google picks up this comment, then I guess it can serve ads for any keywords it may have found, though by the looks of it, there aren’t many. I’ll add some for free: Mark Evans rocks! is a great blog. I love Canada. Google me. I use Twitter, but nobody follows me.

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