We point to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, even email as absolute evidence that we're awash in information.
But the truth is, what we're overwhelmed with is data. Raw, uncategorized, short bursts of facts, links, or commentary. We're waking up each morning to a firehose of newsfeeds, meeting requests, school and doctors appointments, and funny clips from last nights Daily Show. It comes at us fast, without any way to weigh it or validate it.
We're all faced with data overload, and information under-load.
Information is what we're hungry for. Contextual, valid, useful, and curated. And perhaps most importantly - organized in ways that allow us to focus on a category in a deep and thoughtful way. What we're hungering for is the ability to take control of our digital lives, to create a clear categorization of areas that matter to us. To build a taxonomy of time that allows us to engage ideas, issues, and information in a deep and thoughtful way.
Today, the nature of the raw dump of information into our digital lives has us in triage mode all day long. We're dealing with data in a Now or Never way, responding feverishly to whatever makes its way into our field of vision. The rules of good taste and propriety are thrown out the window. Business requests come through DM's on Twitter, via Facebook posts, in tagged photographs, and LinkedIn LNKD +10.6% requests. The lines between friends, family, and work colleagues are blurred as well - with our newsfeeds now overrun with co-workers social lives and clients late night escapades. Sure, it's good to share. But it's also important to think. And as we now spend large portions of our day trying to keep up with the avalanche of inbound data, thinking is being left for last.
This is all about to change.
Each of us can't make sense of the unfiltered information that is pointed at our screens. And information under-load increasingly means that we're losing out on the big ideas, important news, and critical data that we need to stay connected and informed.
The next chapter in the information revolution is the emergence of smart agents that will give us the control to manage and organizes the streams in our digital lives. You can see a glimmer of what's on the horizon in two software products I've added to my life in the past few weeks. Until now, I've been overwhelmed by email and passwords. In each case, the world has told me it was my fault. I have too much spam because I've been public with one of my email addresses years ago, and I have too many passwords with different variations because I just don't have a good system or memory to manage the almost one hundred sites that require eight or more characters, large and small alpha-numeric combinations, and require automatic password changes ever six months or so. Together, passwords and email were ruling my life.
But now, I've taken control.
First, I installed SaneBox. Sane box is a remarkable email filter that looks at incoming email and allows emails from your friends and regular correspondents to make it through. All other email goes in a mailbox called SaneLater - which simply means not that important. And, my favorite solution is a mailbox called BlackHole that allows you to drag every piece of spam into one mailbox, never to be heard from them again. Now, is SaneBox perfect? No - not yet. In fact it may be just a temporary measure in search of the perfect email solution. I'd like to be able to train it to get smarter, to know that any email with "Dr. Oz" in the subject line is spam, or that any email offering me the Pimslaure Language course just isn't something I've asked to see. That will come in time. In just a few weeks, email is back to a reasonable stream. And having enjoyed the power of controlling my digital life, I'm hungry for more.
Which is why, when my friend David Pogue wrote about password overload in the New York Times last week - I was ready to hear what he had to say. He begins by nailing all the security 'advisors' with this telling quote: "If you want to avoid having your identity stolen, use long passwords that contain digits, punctuation and no recognizable words. Make up a different password for every Web site. And change all of your passwords every 30 days." What he recommends, and what I've installed - is free software called Dashlane.
Dashlane does two things. It memorizes all my passwords, not in the cloud - but on my devices with single master password. And then, it allows you to memorize all that incredibly repetitive stuff like name, address, phone number, and even - if you want - credit card numbers. Again, always on your machine, never in the cloud - so no worries.
Between SaneBox and Dashlane, I've taken back control of my web experience - both what comes to me and what I have to fill out. But it's just a start.
What comes next?
I want the companies that created this mess to get smarter - fast. On Facebook, there are people in my life that I very much want to keep up with. But increasingly, the sheer volume of status updates means the odds of me seeing their realtime posts is diminishing. Facebook, please allow me to build an album of friends stories - a kind of social network newspaper - that I can read on my schedule. A family newspaper that I can browse, enjoy, and comment on during a peaceful Sunday morning. A thought-leader Newspaper I can scan over lunch at work to see what's going on. A high school / college friends paper that I can explore when time allows. Realtime feeds lead to data under-load, and that just doesn't feel right.
Apple Mail, or Gmail, whichever you prefer. I'd like to be able to build smart mail boxes with time-based filters and emergency overrides. For example, the emails I get from my son's school about his athletic schedule currently comes in a Now or Never mode. Either I see it, file it, and respond - or I forget. Both bad experiences. But, if everything from his school came in a box called "Family: School Schedule" and wasn't visible till after work, or on a weekend, then I wouldn't have to be constantly switching from work to family all day long. Now, if that school email said 'urgent' or 'emergency' or 'timely' in the subject line - then sure, jump to the head of the queue. But otherwise, let me create a Taxonomy of Time so I can get my digital life in order.