Information Overload, Containment, and Distillation

Ann Blair. "Too Much to Know" (2011)

Ann Blair. “Too Much to Know” (2011)

a response to “Information Overload, Past and Present” by Dan Cohen, Executive Director of Digital Public Library of America (December 22, 2013)

points well taken about the somewhat perennial nature of information overload.

As I see it, we inherently live amid many “streams” — moving amid our physical environment, the flows in a workplace, the flow of what’s published, social media, time itself. Likewise, we’re always, to take Blair’s terms, “storing, sorting, selecting, and summarizing,” in a multitude of ways: from how our perception and memory works, to many ad-hoc means such bookpiles, shelves, notebooks, post-its, bookmarks, etc.

It’s a question of how well and happily we can do this navigation and minding. If we are too much in the stream, we experience overload and dissolution. On the other hand, if we retreat to existing acquaintances and interests, we risk being contained by habitual thinking and homophily.

Building on Blair’s terms, and incorporating ideas of “stream” and “flow”, I suggest the design pattern of a ‘distillery‘. Multiple incoming streams (eg water, grain, yeast, heat) come together in an ongoing process of refinement, becoming much more valuable and consumable (& ‘containable’ in a bottle!). I explore this model, and how I currently implement it for myself with various digital tools, at “From reading drift to reading flow.”

As to finding discussion, we might take the present topic and blog post as an example and ask, what might we do right now, to maximize the possibility of deep and meaningful conversation around this important topic?

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What Urban Planning Hasn’t Learned From Tech

"the taster" outside shuttered cafe in Hills Plaza, San Francisco.

“the taster” outside shuttered cafe in Hills Plaza, San Francisco.

 (a response to “What Tech Hasn’t Learned from Urban Planning” by Allison Arieff, The New York Times, December 13, 2013. Note, you should read that article before reading this, it will make more sense that way). 

I appreciate and share Arieff’s concerns about the failings of tech and community in San Francisco. I work in tech, love San Francisco and the Bay Area, and want all to thrive.

Since Arieff has eloquently presented what we might call a classically urbanist view, in the interest of experiment I’d like to suggest a complementary view, which perhaps we could call “tech urbanist,” or “soft city.” So hypothetically, humbly, and hoping not to invoke the furies of culture/class war, let’s consider a parallel text to the original, or…

What Urban Planning Hasn’t Learned From Tech.

Urban planning is, increasingly, embracing the language of tech: hacking, data, open, innovation, smart, startup, entrepreneurship, design thinking, etc. So why are urban planners such bad technologists?

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