Three Cheers for Information Abundance!

by on July 6, 2009 · 24 comments

In April 2008, L. Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, launched his “Information Age” column with a brilliant piece entitled “Optimism and the Digital World” (which Adam lauded here). Crovitz noted the problem of “information overload,” then creeping into the public consciousness, but was unabashed in his optimism:

My own bias is that as information becomes more accessible, individuals gain choice, control and freedom. Established institutions – governments, large companies and special-interest groups – need to work harder to justify their authority. As information and knowledge spread, financial and human capital become more global and more competitive. The uncertainties and dislocations from new technology can be wrenching, but genies don’t go back into bottles.

The First Law of Technology says that “with every change in technology that affects consumer behavior, we always overestimate the impact in the short term, but then underestimate the full impact over the long term.”

Crovitz picks up where he left off in today’s column: “Information Overload? Relax:  We survived copy machines. We’ll survive Twitter.”

Our era in the information age is a transition period of learning how to navigate information abundance. Rather than pitch our BlackBerrys and iPhones into the sea, imagine the benefits once we have figured out how to manage the chaos of endless data and routine multitasking, a process that will help refine our judgment about information and refocus our attention on what’s truly important….

Humans adapt, so we’ll learn how to live with information overabundance. Young people growing up multitasking are already less anxious about using technology and may well cope better than those of us in older generations. They have no choice but to get more sophisticated at separating the important from the unimportant and the authoritative from the unreliable, even while sampling from among many new kinds of information tools…

Young people will cope first as we all evolve to become more sophisticated, less anxious users of information.

Crovitz also notes, with approval, GMU economist Tyler Cowen’s new book, “Create Your Own Economy,” which Cord blogged about here. I recently heard Cowen talk about the book and thoroughly enjoyed the talk.

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