Information overload is so 1971

One of my masters students happened to dredge up a quote from Herbert Simon that nails the problem of information overload.  And then I have to laugh when I see that he was thinking about this back in 1971.  This from the description of Attention economy in Wikipedia:

" an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it" (Simon, 1971, Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World, p 40-41.).

The focus of the quote is on attention, but that is the problem of information overload - we lose the ability to focus our attention on those things that really need it.

Love the title of the book too!

And I see this isn't the first time this quote has opened my eyes.  I knew it sounded familiar!

1 Comment(s)

Scott Lewis Author Profile Page said:

I used to use that quote as part of the signature on my emails, as much as a reminder to myself as anything else.

The core difficulty seems to be that context has become increasingly elusive. Printed newspapers, for example, are deeply contextual, providng page number, page position and article adjacency as a guide to meaning, allowing us to rapidly filter out what is most likely to interest us. The RSS summary is, in a way, an attempt to recreate aspects of this.

I've been working away at these notions for about the last year while developing a new piece of software, which I've just released as a beta. Xenos enables users to subscribe to RSS source feeds, then create their own feeds by simply drag/dropping items into new feed containers. These new feeds can then be distributed as RSS, or html newsletters.

What led me to this work was largely the writing of Douglas Engelbart (over at, who suggests context be established and maintained via outline structures. RSS is really a form of outline, and used properly, can be structured to contain contextual meaning, especially when used in association with OPML.

Anyway, if you are interested you can check out the beta of the software at Just click on the big "X".

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