Week 9 Readings- Notes and Thoughts
Information overload indeed!
Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age by Ann M. Blaire
The introduction of Blaire’s book deals with the notion that we are currently experiencing an information explosion on par with that of the Renaissance. The author believes this to be true, but adds two views – 1.) The experience of overload is not new. 2) Cultural factors help determine the ways in which societies accumulate and manage information.
The dichotomous arguments about information overload presented over time are worth exploring. Those like Seneca and Zhu Xi would argue that an overabundance of information leads to sloppy reading and a type of superficial knowledge (p. 15, 32) While others like Francis Bacon and Emperor Constantine would argue that as much information should be accumulated as possible. (15, 23)
I guess this reading makes me wonder- “How closely knit are the concepts of content and accumulation?” As a future librarian, I know I have a duty to uphold the idea that any piece information can be worthwhile. And while I tend to agree in a sense with Zhu Xi’s evaluation that more texts leads to more skimming, I think time plays a larger factor in limiting our understanding of a wide breadth of information. We obviously do not have the time to discover everything, but that doesn’t mean resources shouldn’t be available.
As the introduction recounts with numerous examples (Pinakes p. 16, Suda p.24, leishu p.30, florilegum p. 34), the ways of presenting information changed over time, sometimes inadvertently limiting its scope.
I would think that the rise of the printing press, and later the internet, would make the problem of how much to accumulate a little easier to solve. But the two methods of collecting information seem to have the same set of negatives listed by Blaire on page 47, which are profit motive, censorship, and copyright.
I appreciate how Blaire mentions Samuel Johnson’s four types of reading (hard study, perusal, curious, mere) to wrap up the discussion. This attitude that we read for different purposes helps “soften the blow” of information overload, by giving us a way to arrange content.
Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century by Cathy N. Davidson
First of all, big ups to Davidson, for writing the most engaging thing we’ve been assigned this semester. Her argument that society as a whole suffers from “attention blindness” (p.12) makes me reflect on just how rapidly the role of technology has expanded since the mid-1990′s. The ability for people to retrieve information has become nearly instantaneous, yet it seems that the world is not necessarily “better.” To adjust to this attention blindness, people need to be willing to “learn. unlearn, and relearn,” but this seems difficult. If patterns really do determine behaviors, how can we create patterns that will prepare us for a world we didn’t ever imagine?
I can see how this excerpt relates to some of our other class assignments. Much like the reading listed above, it reinforces the idea that the idiosyncrasies of specific cultures create a shared informational focus. The example of baby Andrew slowly learning what is and is not worthy of his attentions as he grows is somewhat like the Greek and Chinese empires accumulating certain types of documents. As far as libraries go, I’m not sure I see many concrete applications. Perhaps the idea that we really focus on things when they disrupt what we expect could be a lesson that librarians always need to be watching for innovations in information management.