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Friday, September 26, 2014

Information Overload

Students this semester are doing a great job of exploring media theorists Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and George Gerbner, and their views about information today, in the middle ages and in pre-alphabet societies. 

As we embark on the Semester Service Learning project and dig deeper into communications topics, I've begun asking myself what might be the ABC's of handling the overload of information in this new digital age. Here is a first draft: A = attention, B= Bias, C= Control.

Think about how we are exposed to information. It's both intentional and accidental.You set out to learn about a topic less frequently than being exposed to it via (social) media or a conversation in person. So the ABC's are about what to do in the case of accidental, unintentional exposure to an idea or concept. 

A = Attention (This is a yes/no step)

Giving attention means paying for it in some way, usually with time and energy that is irreplaceable. Not giving attention to a media message means you can give it to something else. New ideas, projects, dreams, who knows. Young people have a larger storehouse of expendable time and energy, but it is also finite. Deciding what to devote time and energy to is a skill that can be learned. I find it helpful to remember there are strong commercial forces battling for my time and energy. Advertisements in (social) media make profit or gain power by winning my time and energy by trading them for ratings, subscriptions, followers, likes, etc.  

B = Bias

Studying a message for its bias is the bread and butter of media literacy. Knowing who originates a message, what techniques are being used to attract someone's attention, considering how others would perceive the message, examining the lifestyles, values and points of view present or excluded in the message and why the message was sent (profit or power) are tools for examining bias. We each have biases and practice in sorting them out is critical for handling messages and their content. 

C = Control

Information curation is incomplete without control of what we do with information we choose and understand. The management of information is as important as its selection. I once listened too closely to a professor from University of Texas, Stanley Donner, who advised us to not hoard files and sheaths of notes, but to focus instead on learning how to access research. 35 years later, I am still thankful to Dr. Donner for his advice, but I think I would benefit from training in file management in the digital world. My computer storage experiences with photos this past decade have been less than successful. What I'm aiming for now is a balance between paper and digital file management.