03/20/2013 10:46 am ET Updated May 20, 2013

Now Or Never - The New World Of InfoOverload

I used to be one of those people who categorized things. I had my urgent to do list, my long term projects, my followups. I was... you know... organized. But the firehose of inbound information has flooded all those systems. My Linked-in requests grow daily, my Facebook friends ask me to subscribe to their events, my email in box is awash in newsletters, conferences, and offers.

A lot has changed in the past few years. Information has become more urgent, more frequent, and more compact. Rapid fire streams of 140 character info-bites now fill my every waking moment. And, as more of my various platforms become inter-operable, information on Twitter shows up on my Facebook page, or on my G+ feed. Cross-posting is the order of the day.

At the same time, the number of devices that create information has grown exponentially. This picture tells the whole story. It wasn't long ago that those of us who had access to a printing press or a radio station transmitter where in the very small minority. But today - we each cary a broadcast platform in our pocket. Smart phones not only make it possible to broadcast, they make it almost necessary.

And so, information is shifting from being qualitative to being binary.

The decision tree is simple: Now... or... Never.

For many of us - the constant ping of inbound information, and the data triage of flagging, shifting to mailboxes, or clicking 'read later' takes us an increasingly misappropriate amount of our daily life. "Read Later" only makes sense if you can unplug from the firehose long enough to read at all - or if 'later' really means 'never', which it increasingly seems like it does.

So - how do we survive in this new Now or Never world of instant communication?

A few rules of thumb that may change how you reach out and respond to communication.

It used to be that an unreturned voice mail, or an unresponded to email meant that your communication was unwanted, or rejected. Today - the meaning has changed. A non-response means nothing. It could be you hit someone on a vacation day, a family crisis, or a workday overload. Once your message falls below the fold, it's out of sight and out of mind. So, don't be shy or polite. Ping again. Until you get told your offer or communication has been rejected, presume its just missed the mark.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter Direct Message, even Text can all be appropriate - or wildly inappropriate. If you meet someone at a conference and want to connect, you may find them on Facebook. But wait, don't friend them yet. Take a closer look. How do they use FB? Do they have two hundred friends or two thousand? A small number means they're just connecting with close personal friends, and a friend request would be inappropriate. But others use FB as a networking tool - and would welcome your Friend request. It depends. Linked in tends to foster more casual connections. Text message to a phone, be very careful that you're close. Some people live on text, but others will take a text as a invasion of privacy. Communication platforms are a moving target.


Monday morning, the start of the work week. Ugh. Friday, anytime after 3pm. Dead zone. National holidays, religious holidays, school vacations, or family commitments. More and more - people are always on, unless they're tuned out. So if you want your connection to get seen and responded to, a quick glance at FB is always a good idea. Any communication, even good news, on a vacation lands with a thud. Sometimes, for certain kinds of friends and close connections a Sunday afternoon can work well. But for others, it shows up like a crazy ping during a rare moment of family time or digital solace. Ping with care.

The most important thing to know is - this avalanche of information won't last. We're bailing a sinking rowboat with a thimble, and the water is rising. So things are about to reach a tipping point. And when they do - expect people to gravitate toward a next generation of powerful new filters. Tuning out, which is today thought of as a last ditch act of a digital coward, will rapidly become the new standard of information management.

Our current filter is binary - spam, or not spam. But imagine if you could rank your inbound pings on a spam scale with 1 = good communication and 10 = completely unwanted junk. How many inbound pings would you rank a 5 or less? How many company CC's, or vendor "check ins" would you tolerate before you'd simply say - "sorry, you've exceeded your bandwidth limit for me."

Understanding that we're in a time of information overload that will shift to a new world of assertive and effective filters should give you the tools you need to make your communications important and impactful. Otherwise, it's just spam - whether you know it or not.