"WHEN I CHECKED my Gmail inbox, I was shocked," writes Pam Pastor, author of Dazed and Confused. "I had about five pages' worth of Facebook notifications. Swimming in so many emails from the social networking site, I missed a few important messages. My lame response to agitated email writers? 'Umm, I'm sorry, it was buried in Facebook crap.'"
Is it time to get off the grid and smash your iPhone to bits? Time to declare email bankruptcy, delete those 1,000 unread messages, issue a public mea culpa, and start over? With an ever-increasing chorus of "overload," this social media stuff must be irretrievably broken, right?
Maybe not. Social media may be the hot new thing, but the kind of overload it's creating isn't new at all. In his groundbreaking book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler described his titular phrase as "the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time." He wrote that nearly 40 years ago, and it's still true. Along with voicemail and email, we're now awash in social networking data. We're freaking out about how to deal with it at an individual level. And now we want to bring this stuff into our businesses. Are we nuts?
No, we're not. We simply don't yet have the facilities to deal with this new flood--we're only at the primitive-tools stage. We've been given access to four kinds of information that were either obscured or simply not available in the past:
* Profiles--Summaries of online identities;
* Connections--inks between ourselves and others, or links between others in our network;
* Content--The words, photos, and video we're all publishing online; and
* Activities--The things we're doing in these networks, brought to the surface for all to see.
Until now, the only one of those four we needed to deal with was the content pillar. We dealt with content overload by reading trusted sources and, within those, only selecting items relevant to us. (Think of the Sunday New York Times: Do you read every …