Technological progress tends to increase the available information. Thus, our capacity to manage this information becomes overloaded (hence the term information overload). As Clay Shirky explained: it is not so much an information overload, as a filter failure. The abundance of information is never a problem. The real problem is the lack of efficient strategies to index, summarize, filter, cross-reference and archive information.
But information overload is nothing new. In Reading Strategies for Coping With Information Overload ca. 1550-1700, Blair surveys the techniques our ancestors invented to cope with the abundance of books :
- the alphabetical index;
- the reference book,
- copy and paste (with actual scissors) to save time in note-taking.
What I find fascinating is the historical perspective: while still useful, the alphabetical index is hardly exciting anymore. It has been supplanted by full text search (in e-books). There are still reference books (such as dictionaries), but they are being replaced with online tools. Information overload continues to generate many inventions: the search engine (such as Google), the recommender system (as on Amazon.com), and the social networks (such as Twitter).Â Literally, these tools expand our minds. We become smarter.
Yet every time I finish writing a research article, I am amazed at how old fashioned the format is.
- Research journals still ask for silly metadata such as keywords, even though most researchers rely on full text search.
- The format is clearly meant for paper, even though most of my collaborators browse research articles on their computers.
- We have silly things like page limitations enticing people to pack more words per page by reducing spacing.
- It is excessively difficult to correct or improve a “published” article.
There is hope. The PLoS One journal presents research articles in an innovative format. The article is interactive: anyone can rate and comment it. Many journals allow the authors to upload supplementary material. Yet I predict that in 20 years, we will look back and think that academic publishing in 2010 was archaic. (I admit that it is not a daring prediction.) There is much room for innovation.
Source: Erik Duval.