The information overload problem is bad and getting worse. Nicholas Carr, in his sentimental but thought-provoking book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, argues that our chemical addiction to new information is eroding our ability to concentrate on lengthy tasks. But even if this is true, it is only one part of the information overload equation. There's another side effect that I haven't seen much written about. Information overload is destroying our sense of context. Old media made an attempt at contextualizing information. Lengthy articles in the New York Times Magazine, for example, wouldn't just give me facts, but would also tell me why I should care about those facts. It would give me some background and connect these facts to other things I probably already cared about.
On the other hand, the vast majority of new media, by which I mean things like blogs and Twitter and even the 24-hour news channels, keep things short--that's what people want, right?--and rarely build a contextual framework around the information they present. That's not to say that blogs and Twitter aren't useful for certain things. Twitter is an amazing way to keep up on the zeitgeist, a use case I missed when I first signed up for Twitter and dismissed it as useless. Still, most of the time when I engage with new media I find myself saying, "So what?" I may know what's going on, but it's increasingly difficult to see the bigger picture. I feel like I'm almost always "in the weeds."
But not all hope is lost. If the Internet has proven one thing it's that it's an amazingly flexible platform on which to solve information problems of all sorts. I'd actually love to see someone build a solution to this problem, one that pulled my RSS and Twitter feeds, analyzed the content to determine what topics were being discussed, and searched the web for lengthier / meatier pieces on those subjects. I don't think this would be that hard to do. The question is--would I then have time to actually read all this additional information?