Paul Arveson (
Tue, 18 Jun 96 14:44:57 EDT

Dean Ohlman wrote:

"I am in the process of gathering information for an article with the
working title: "The Art of Ignorance." The purpose of the article for
the general Christian audience is to give practical, biblical
guidelines on what to give our attention to and what to ignore in
the midst of a knowledge and communication technology
explosion. If you have developed your own guidelines as to what
you do to avoid an information overload (and all the maladies that
causes), I would appreciate hearing from you. What do you do, for
instance, to keep from having e-mail and Internet research rob you
of more important things? What do you do to screen info you think
is "critical" to your work -- especially when there is more of it than
you can possible attend to?"


"The essence of genius is knowing what to overlook."

(Unattributed quote)

I agree with Ohlman's concern about the growing problem of Information Overload
(IO). Here's one response, along the lines of previous technological advances:
Mankind invents controlled fire. Mankind enjoys the benefits of fire. Mankind
suffers the bad consequences of fire. Mankind fights fire with fire.

E-mail has played a rewarding role in my life over the past year, since I
subscribed to the ASA Listserv. I decided only to subscribe to this one,
relatively small list. It serves a fairly select group of thoughtful + faithful
people whom I appreciate. I've learned a lot from them.

However, I have found that e-mail (including all sources) eats up a
considerable amount of time; about an hour a day. I usually scan it in the
morning, and save what I want to read later onto a floppy disk, which I take
home and read or print out. During lunch time I often write short posts.
This means that it has taken away some of my social interaction with my
colleagues. That too is a significant cost.

A solution is on the way, in terms of additional "tools": powerful search
engines, intelligent agents, and Web worms that can be trained to select
material that is customized to one's interests, automatically, in the background
or at night. Additional help is being developed in the field of natural
language processing, which will perhaps help to process text and select not only
relevant material but the best quality material, where quality is defined in a
rather sophisticated way. In other words, the way to fight information overload
is with more information technology. (Of course, it is too early now to say how
successful these tools will be; they may be "silicon snake oil." But so far, I
think progress has been made).

This may make me sound like a hopeless "techie" but it's happening and
bound to happen because of the tremendous demand for it. Not for us, but for
many users, information is money, and managers are realizing that it is an
incredible waste to have an installed base of office computers that are idle all
night. THIS WILL CHANGE. It takes technology to fight technology, unless you
want to take the Luddite option.

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20084