Too Much Information

Sunday, February 6, 2011
First Aired: 
Sunday, April 5, 2009

What is it

“We’re just never going to catch up,” writes David Weinberger in Everything Is Miscellaneous.  That is, we're never going to catch up with the flood of information that is thrown at us by modern technology, especially the internet.  We can never get all of our email filed, our digital pictures labeled, our calendars updated, our computers organized.  Is the problem too much information, or out-of-date expectations about how information should be organized?  Ken and John try to make sense of the flood of information with author and philosopher David Weinberger.

Listening Notes

John and Ken begin by challenging their guest on his book title: ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’. Is everything really miscellaneous? Can everything really fit into the ‘there’s-no-right-category-for-this’ category?

David Weinberger says yes – anything and everything is miscellaneous; there is no one right way of classifying information, no inherent ordering of information in the world. The only classifications are those we project onto the world. But, he emphasizes, that does mean that there are not some orderings that are better than others, given the particular purposes of those organizing. David, Ken and John bring in some real world examples to help them sort through the complexities of the problem.

In the next section, Ken asks David whether the internet is really that great of an aid to the informationally-challenged: the internet can give us information on anything, but the information is often not sorted or filtered by authorities on the subject matter. At least at libraries we knew that the information we got, and categorizations thereof, was tried and true; now all we have is the new. David reminds Ken that we haven’t lost old libraries, ways of classifying, or authorities, we have gained new ones.

Ken, John, and David discuss pragmatism and more of the costs and benefits of having new options: we can better sort the world according to our individual interests, one the on hand, but on the other hand, if each person sorts information in different ways, we may lose the conventions that help us communicate. 

The last segment starts off with a caller who reminds Ken, John and David, that there are some things that just don’t belong together – no matter who is interested in what. David disagrees, but they all launch into a discussion about authorities in classification in the modern digital age. Even if there is no single way of classifying information, maybe some are better than others. But in the digital age, people aren’t forced to listen to any ‘authorities’ on classification: if you think a piece of information is important, you they can find someone to agree with you, and it becomes easy to call authorities those who agree with you. Despite David’s steady commitment to the wonders of information technology through the show,  he ends off the by noting that this repercussion is worthy of worry, not wonder.

  • 60-second Philosopher (seek to 49:35): Ian Schoales investigates Facebook: is it only a clever ploy for spying on us?  He explores DARPA, overlapping personnel, and Facebook’s privacy policy.
 
 

David Weinberger, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School

 
 
 

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