University Dialogue 2010

TMI: A University Dialogue on Decision Making in the Age of Information Overload

Part of good scholarship is being aware of historical precedents for your question, and it may be comforting to know that the concerns around superficiality and shoddy scholarship as a result of technological advances are not new. In Hamlet's Blackberry, (as reviewed by Laurie Winer2) William Powers traces similar concerns back to Socrates, who felt scrolls would erode thought by allowing people to look things up rather than "remember[ing] them from the inside, completely on their own." Powers also mentions a 15th century Italian scholar who said of Guttenberg's press that it would "disregard that which is best and instead merely write for the sake of entertainment." For a U.S. precedent, we can look to Thoreau who said famously in Walden, "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."3

So questions on the value of new ways to transfer information and to communicate are ancient ones, and are really about the values that drive the human experience, as well as how to turn information into knowledge and outcomes. The scale and complexity of the issue grows at a pace described by Moore's law on the doubling rate of computing power4. The analogy of "sipping from a fire hose" applies, and the force of the information flood coming from the hose grows exponentially. – UNH Provost John Aber