Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Breaking the Information Logjam

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Breaking the Information Logjam

Article excerpt

PERSONAL | COMPUTING

Today, in the Information Age, we typically think of ourselves as being uniquely inundated with information. But nearly two millennia ago, the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, "What is the use of having countless books and libraries, whose titles their owners can scarcely read through in a whole lifetime? The learner is, not instructed, but burdened by the mass of them, and it is much better to surrender yourself to a few authors than to wander through many."

Still, technology does make the pace of life faster today than in bygone days, and information technology has a way of forcing more data on us than we can handle. To be truly useful, information must be converted to knowledge and knowledge to wisdom.

Fortunately, information technology can ameliorate the problem of information overload - often called "infoglut" - as well as aggravate it. It's how we use the technology that counts.

Filter the info-wheat from the info-chaff. Who reading this right now isn't flooded with a gazillon e-mail messages each week, even each day. In response, some people have taken the draconian measure of not responding to or even reading e-mail, feeling that if the message is really important, the sender will follow-up with a phone call or fax.

But much is inevitably lost this way. A better approach is to set up "bozo filters" or rules in your e-mail program. Modern e-mail programs let you automatically direct junk messages into the trash as well as important messages into specific folders or mailboxes where they'll get your immediate attention.

You typically instruct the program to look for keywords in the incoming messages' "From" or "Subject" fields or body of the message and tell it what to do next. With unsolicited mass mailings, or "spam," don't ask to be taken off the list or you may increase the spam you receive from unscrupulous senders.

If you follow Internet discussion groups - and valuable inside information can be gleaned by doing so - you also can use technology to better manage your time. If one or more individuals habitually leaves belligerent, off-topic, overly chatty, or otherwise time-wasting messages, you can set up a "kill file" or "kill filter" so that you'll be spared seeing that person's messages in the future.

Similarly, you can set up a "watch filter" that alerts you to any messages that contain keywords you choose. If you're pressed for time, you can ignore all other messages. Alternately, with Usenet discussion groups, you can avoid reading irrelevant messages by searching for keywords using Google Groups, at

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