Recently, Sage kindly made freely available an interesting paper from 2012 entitled Coping with information obesity: A diet for information professionals, by Scott Brown.
Although this is aimed at the info. professional (so the Disruptive Searcher found it to be right up her street), it makes interesting reading for anyone who needs to find information via web-searching (err, that should narrow it down a bit!).
So, what’s information obesity about?
Information obesity is defined in the paper as “the inability to make sense of or act effectively on information” and thus the inability to turn it into knowledge. We’re bombarded with information these days from morn till night (yeah, and right through the night too), much of it repeated over and over or duplicated from myriad sources reporting the same story or re-tweeting, re-posting plus all the user-generated content (the DS is happily guilty as are all bloggers and tweeters). It’s very accessible for sure, quick to find but they aren’t exactly the same. There are differences in reporting quality, accuracy, style, level of detail, expected level of readership, inclusion of graphics, all of which mean that I want to find and select the best source for my audience – but I don’t always have the luxury to do so.
So we have the pressure of speed: as in tight deadlines or user-expectation that you simply don’t need to be given much notice in order to find something these days. Often this means that you have very little leisure to check/digest/evaluate what you’re finding and this carries the risk of providing second-rate information to your user.
Oh yes, and I liked the comment that professionals who have been in the field for 20 or 30 years (ahem, yours truly) find themselves in a completely different profession from when they first started out. It’s true, although for the most part, I don’t actually mind this. It means taking steps to make sure that the grass doesn’t grow too long around your ankles – i.e. move with the times, be flexible, take and make the best of it! That said, it is important to acknowledge (as the article does) that keeping up with the rapid technological changes can be quite overwhelming in itself, and stressful.
One of the most important points in the whole article is this: that the professional does the above in order to remain relevant in the context of the organisation/s for which he or she works. This is key and the only way that you can continue to provide a useful and relevant service for your organisation or customers.
The article moves on to suggest practical ways of managing the obesity (how to stay slim?!). I summarise: focus on what you’re doing, think about what you’re finding (ref. to my previous post on Informing people mindfully), retain the ability to separate the info-wheat from the info-chaff, and remember to talk with your colleagues and discuss their needs, share your own thoughts too. Don’t worry about not finding everything (find enough) or not feeling like an expert on everything (understand enough to search effectively).
Finally the author goes into philosophical mode which is rather nice: take a break from news now and then, be creative, realise how useful deadlines can be and – one I especially liked – read in depth, stop scanning and headline-hopping or, as he puts it, “consume full thoughts”.
…and relax…partake of the slow information movement for a while.