A favorite category of blog posts are ones that start as a comment in someone else’s blog that expands so much it takes root back on your own site. That’s what happened after reading Wes Fryer’s post How are you dealing with TMI? (Too Much Information). I applaud Wes for opening up a topic, but I’m going out on a barking limb here because I read in the comments a long line of head bobbing nodding, and even the question of “how you deal with it” to me begs the answer in a misplaced direction of looking for simple bullet point list answers.
However, I have even more push back about this (manufactured) notion of “Too Much Information”. Is that really the situation?
Even before the web, the internet. etc, this world was full of more information than I could possibly manage in my head- every animal species, every Shakespearean sonnet, every detail of Egyptian history, every mineral, every math formula– there is a lot of information on the world. Where is this assumption come from that there was a time when there was less than “too much”?
But it’s not really about the height of the information pile, the volume of it– its more about how we organize and approach it. And what I read is a lot of file cabinet mindsets. Wes quotes from related post by Kevin Washburn on , TMI! Information Overload and Learning
We can maintain a quick and steady pace when we enter information into a database or spreadsheet, simply pushing “return” or “tab” to move to the next entry, but the brain is not a computer. It has limits. Data funneled endlessly through the senses prevents the processing required for learning.
What do students’ brains need to do to construct new learning? Let’s listen in as the neural “Data Manager” oversees the processing”¦
Where is the evidence of this being the way the brain works? That it is like data entry, one row typed in at a time until the red light screeches “Red Alert!” Is someone metering this “funneled flow of data endlessly through the senses”, and carefully monitoring the loss of learning on some measurable scale?
Do we really know the limits of the brain? I am no neuroscientist, but from the bits I read and TED videos I groove on, I get the impression we still do not fully comprehend how the brain works, or even have more than a fuzzy idea. Even talking in terms of fixed “capacity” or limits of the brain is just a simple metaphor applied to a complex entity. Is the brain really a fixed volume bucket, a box that can “fill”? It just does not wash with me as even close to reality.
Even Washburn’s clever description (which I do like for outlining the range of tasks it seems a brain does) to me is grossly too simple for the brain- it suggests a picture of a single file clerk named Mabel, patiently carefully organizing things one at a time. Everything is neatly cataloged. Yes, Washburn does say this “manager” notion is overly simplistic, and while I am a major user/abuser of metaphors– sometimes it is just too simple and leads to misplaced notions, like applying rules of fluids to things like thought which do not follow the same laws of physics.
I say there is no such thing as Too Much Information– it is a made-up crutch to help deal with our fears.
Think about it, if there is TMI, that then suggests a desire of the opposite— do we really want less information in this world? What road does that lead down? Toward a sign saying “Welcome to Blissful Ignorance”?
It’s not that we have Too Much Information, it’s that we are using old ways of thinking to deal with new forms of information– we hold onto that concept of Mabel that information we need to keep organized and filed away in neat folders, that we have to “fill ourselves” with data and facts, that it must be stored inside of us.
It’s not that we have Too Much Information, its that we have Too Little Skill in managing it differently and we get mired down in our inability to accept that we cannot contain it all. I’m proud of saying I don’t know much but I know how to get to know what I don’t know. We don’t have to keep the information inside of us, we have to be versed in the flow of it, and of letting a lot of it flow by and not worrying that we are losing because we are not filling up our buckets with information. And knowing when we don’t have to have our lips on the hose.
I think (and its just my own Mabel running a revolution in the office upstairs) that TMI is a made up throw away phrase that sounds re-assuring, but to me it is bunk.
I fully expect some strong rebuttals… oh I don’t have to worry because everyone is satiated with TMI, too lethargic to comment.
The post "The Myth of TMI" was originally rescued from the bottom of a stangant pond at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2009/07/myth-tmi/) on July 8, 2009.