Information saturation


in Daily updates, Geek stuff, Internet matters

Mansfield College, Oxford

There is no time when it is easier to get distracted from a task than when it is something long, complex, and challenging. My room is never cleaner than at the periods before exams, nor my emails so well managed as at times when I have some massive research project to complete. The number of possibilities on the web: from blogging to instant messaging, compound the danger. So too, the special stresses involved in thesis writing.

This month’s issue of The Walrus includes an article called “Driven to Distraction” that addresses the issue of how many such temptations exist in a digital age. I subscribe to 127 different information feeds: most of which get updated more than once a day, and some of which are regularly updated more than twenty times a day. Beyond that, I have email, the manual screening of spam from blog comments and wiki pages, Facebook, constantly updating access logs for various sites, text messages on my cell phone, and news websites that I track.

Just as I have frequently used music and immersion in a laptop-free coffee shop environment to try to get some reading done, I am going to try to reduce the frequency with which I am checking my various feeds: staying logged out of Bloglines and email and checking each only a few times a day (or at least every couple of hours, instead of virtually constantly). Maybe then I will be able to finish hammering out a new version of chapter two, as well as drafts of chapters three and four, before Dr. Hurrell departs for Brazil, leaving me to finish my thesis entirely on my own.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica March 16, 2007 at 6:46 pm

A while back I went through and deleted most of my feeds on Bloglines. What is left are blogs that belong to friends or ones that are updated no more than once a day. I now manually peruse news sites once per day with a time limit instead of having multiple feeds updating hourly.

I am sure that I’m marginally less informed and I’m missing out on seeing some cool stuff by not being subscribed to Boing Boing and the like, but for the most part my life is much improved. The hardest part was letting go of that need to be constantly fed information.

Milan March 16, 2007 at 7:16 pm


That is sensible. I just moved more than half of the total feeds into a folder that I don’t really plan to check. Any that I don’t miss at all after a week are getting the ax. Most of them, I just clicked past before, anyhow.

I am keeping BoingBoing as a feed for now, but Metafilter and Slashdot are now going to need to be checked by going to those pages directly.

R.K. March 16, 2007 at 5:07 pm

I hear David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is the book to read for people feeling swamped by too many tasks.

Anonymous March 16, 2007 at 9:55 pm

One thing that helps is blocking tasks off into thirty minute chunks.

Lindi March 17, 2007 at 7:35 am

A fantastic article about the science behind computer desktops/getting work done/distraction/our ability to keep track of many tasks simultaneously:


(if the link doesn’t work it’s a NYTimes article entitled “Meet the life hackers”)

May include some helpful (albeit impractical, like buying a massive screen) tips :)

Milan March 17, 2007 at 12:51 pm


Interesting article. It makes me think that I should read David Allen’s book.

Anonymous March 18, 2007 at 10:54 pm
Milan June 10, 2007 at 2:17 pm

I gave BlogLines another purge today. It is annoying how many of my friends (a) create multiple blogs (b) post to each very rarely and (c) simply abandon them without warning.

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