Monday, May 10, 2004

"Information, Silence, and Sanctuary"

Information overload: Most of us face it. According to an article in Knight-Ridder newspapers, the amount of new "words, sounds, pictures and numbers produced and stored on paper, film or computer disks" has almost doubled in the past three years.

There's even a name for a new kind of depression that comes from info overload. In December's T+D magazine, I wrote about NEDS, New Economy Depression Syndrome, "a form of self-reinforcing depression, which is caused by information overload, constant interruption, and reduction in relationship quality. The victim feels a sense of being overwhelmed, helpless, and ultimately alone."

But one man is fighting back. An article in today's Washington Post talks about David Levy, a professor in the Information School at the University of Washington (state). Despite being so plugged-in, or perhaps because of it, Levy believes that, as the Post puts it, "information polluted people need to organize and protect psychic space and quiet time."

Levy takes one day a week to be unplugged from the Internet, email, television, and telephone. As an observant Jew, that day is Friday night to Saturday night, the Jewish Sabbath. But this idea is a great one that people of all backgrounds could follow.

Levy also takes aikido on his lunch breaks and meditates before work. He believes that people can be more productive at work if they allow time to pause and reflect. Each person must find what works for him- or herself, he says, but he also puts responsibility on businesses. Managers need to allow workers time to do things that don't look like work. "Information is not enough," he says.

This week in Seattle is a two-day "Conference on Information, Silence, and Sanctuary" that Levy organized. The program will bring together such speakers as John Seely Brown, author of The Social Life of Information (I wrote about him in an April 26th blog entry); Benedictine monk Mark Barrett; and Geof Bowker, UC San Diego historian of technology.

Should be interesting. I'm hoping more information about the proceedings will be posted on the conference Website after things wrap up.

(Side note and shameless plug: A new technology called RSS is helping info overloaded people keep up with the Websites and blogs they visit on a regular basis. Some of you are using RSS already to read this blog, but do you know about its applications for learning? See my first quarterly Trends article in Learning Circuits for more.)

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