Information Overload? We're Just Beginning
The data stream that became a river that became an ocean is drowning us in dreck. How are you going to separate signal from noise? Better yet, how are your customers going to do it?
Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology
We keep hearing new statistics about the accelerating rate at which new information-; content of all kinds-; is being created both by humans and machines. The latter is accelerating at an exponentially greater pace, one that has been driven by machines exchanging data with other machines. There’s no end in sight to this growth, and absolutely no slowdown is even imaginable at this point. One of the most interesting challenges for the next few years will be “throughput” - how will we keep the enormous flow of data from the machines, and zillions of sensors, from clogging or breaking the whole Internet?
And, if the non-stop output from the machines isn’t bad enough, the explosive growth of big, slow and clunky videos on the web continues to increase congestion, impose constraints and raise complex questions about prejudicial pricing, inequitable throttling and other anti-competitive and anti-consumer conduct by the gatekeepers.
Companies like Xaptum, one of the first Internet of Things startups at 1871, the Chicago-based tech incubator I ran for many years, have been addressing the machine volume concern for some time. Xaptum is talking specifically about a separate edge pathway or an entirely new network devoted exclusively to M2M transactions. But today, no one has any good ideas about what to do with the equally problematic video situation. Because, in all fairness, no one expected that, virtually overnight, everyone in the world would become not only a consumer of video, but a creator as well.
The current statistics are interesting and demonstrate that, while we are clicking on more and more videos, we’re watching fewer and fewer of them from start to finish. This has all kinds of implications for the ill-advised advertisers who are largely paying for the privilege of showing their stuff to no one who matters or cares. Our patience these days is non-existent, and our attention spans continue to shrink.
I haven’t looked up the most recent estimates on this phenomenon, but the basic premise is that we’ve created more information (I’m reluctant refer to this unmanageable and overwhelming mass of media as “knowledge”) in the last whatever than mankind has created since the beginning of time.
However these calculations are made, it’s abundantly clear that this isn’t especially good news for anyone and, in most instances, no one would even be tempted to describe this glut of infojunk as a source of pride or any cause for celebration. In fact, to call this flood of facts, factoids and fake news a mixed blessing is an understatement of a magnitude comparable to those old Vietnam-era military reports where we were assured that “to save the town, it became necessary to destroy it.”
It’s getting harder and harder every day to effectively connect to anyone as our attention becomes an even scarcer and a more precious commodity in our lives than our time, which is increasingly and wastefully consumed by slogging our way through all this stuff. If I’m not listening to what you’re trying to say, you’re just wasting your breath.
And keep in mind that this is a two-sided problem, where the pain is shared by both the companies and the customer/consumers. It’s an enormous problem for each of us as individuals and an equally sizable and critical problem for every business as well. If we can’t figure out how to manage the overwhelming influx, to filter and focus the flow, and to create some tools to help infuse some meaning and value into the mess, the emergent digital communication channels will soon resemble all the crappy ad and coupon packages that we immediately discard on Sundays. Or all the 3rd class mail and catalogs that never even make it into the house.
And “meaning” in this context includes an appreciation of the context in which all this new material is being created. Today the context of most communications is more critical to successful reach, reaction and response than the content of the materials themselves. (See .)
In the same way, “metrics” don’t mean anything when there’s no one on the other end of the line. We continue to hear more and more reports about problems with the actual impact of online ads. Re-targeting ads are being shown to recent purchasers, which makes little or no sense. Targeting has become so narrow that the overall opportunity is in fact shrinking, not expanding. Ads are being counted and accumulated when it’s obvious that they aren’t being seen by human beings or visible at all.
If you can’t find me or efficiently reach me with your message, all of the money you’re spending on expensive online media is going down the drain and all the slick and detailed reporting you’re receiving isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Too little signal and too much noise.