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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

When I started sift I was working with two entrepreneurs that seemed to be working about 12 hours daily.

Being so busy, these guys weren’t able to keep up with the massive amount of information available to them. My idea was to stand between them and that deluge, be keeper of the gate, and help them keep on top of what they needed to know.

Mary Hodder wrote a personal post about this challenge early in January. I’ve paraphrased it and some of the comments and reposted here.

Mary’s personal anxiety about information overload describes the personal challenge in front of entrepreneurs. But consider how magnified this pressure becomes when the livelihood of your business depends on sifting that information.

“With information, ideas, expressions online, networks of activity and the desire to watch the behaviour, events, second order information tools, and my desire to write myself, in this and other blogs and in papers, I have felt pressure, to keep running ahead of the production of information, to keep apprehending it and then processing it, thinking about the deeper meaning, and yet there is so much, I cannot.

“Young people seem to take in smaller, more granular bits of information, as though they are rocks skimming across a lake, touching down briefly for a bit of information before the next lift off to the next dip for something.

“And the difference, I wonder, might be because those older were educated by parents and schools situated in the analog metaphor, where a classic book, Lord Jim by Conrad (one of my favourites), is read over and over, in a search for multiple layers of meaning and experience. Because of this training, my instinct initially was to read the flood of digital information as closely and deeply, looking for and ascribing meaning, even if not at quite the same level as when reading a classic novel.

“But those who are younger, and have grown up with the flood of the digital, may be less educated toward that kind of apprehension and desire to ascribe the same kind of meaning and depth to everything, maybe because while their parents and teachers reside in analog frameworks of their own, those younger are balancing that kind of apprehension with their experience online of granular, digital bits that are skimmed.”


“The best way to respond is to be more selective in what gets there in the first place.

“Not completely closed filters, because we need serendipity to discover new concepts and ideas, but a judicious selection of sources.”

“I’ve been thinking about it as an information food pyramid. At the base level of the pyramid is a huge amount of raw data that is somewhat overwhelming. There are scholars and journalists who sift through that mass and extract interesting stories and useful information. Then there are second and third-order information consumers who take the results of those first-order consumers and process it themselves. I’ve been calling them ‘information carnivores’.

“In most cases, it’s an advantage to live higher up the pyramid. It’s more efficient and takes less time to keep up with the information flood. And, as you note, you can always drill back down to the primary data when you want to reflect more deeply. The disadvantage of looking only at processed information is that you have to worry about the biases and inaccuracies that may have accumulated in the processing stage.”

“I am in the ‘younger generation’ group you were referring to. In high school we are given, for the most part, busy work. You skim through the pages to find the paraphrasing or term you’re looking for then, boom! You have your answer and go on to the next question. Usually there was no need to read in context to get an answer. That, in part, trained us to just skim until we found what we wanted.”

After reading these comments I tried to weigh the advantages of teaching our children to skim versus teaching them to dig deeply. Of course there needs to be balance but we seem to be focusing on the former at the cost of the latter.

I’d be interested in links to any studies that consider the skills the net savvy, younger generations employ to find and use the information they need.

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