An information tsunami is sweeping the world, eating up vast quantities of time and energy."The information avalanche coming from all sides -- the Internet, PDAs, hundreds of television channels -- is burying us in extraneous data that prevent important facts and knowledge from reaching a broad audience," writes Dusty Horwitt in The Washington Post in August 2008.
"Lawyers are familiar with this phenomenon," Horwitt continues. "In fact, they use it to their advantage: They know that if you want to hide damaging information about a case, there's nothing like a document dump to do the trick. You make the facts freely available -- along with so much irrelevant data that no one will ever find them."
Tim Sanders' new book, Saving The World At Work explores the concept of "socially responsible web programming." He suggests that, for example, if Google used a different color scheme (less white and more gray), there is evidence a massive amount of energy would be saved.
Computers certainly consume lots of energy and throw off lots of heat. Arizona State University engineering professor Eric Williams states that a desktop computer "is probably the most energy-intensive of home devices, aside from furnaces and boilers."
There may be lessons to learn from how we deal with traditional energy issues. "From University of California, Santa Cruz, to Virginia Tech, cafeteria trays are disappearing, as a way for universities and food service companies to reduce food waste, lower energy costs and help make college campuses more environmentally sustainable," states an August 2008 article in Time magazine.
"The reasoning goes like this," the article continues. "When students are allowed to use trays, they tend to roam around the cafeteria grabbing food with abandon, until space on the tray runs out. If you revoke their trays, making it impossible for students to carry a surplus of dishes, they will make their selections more carefully and be satisfied with less food overall."
Colleges that have become tray-less estimate that students are now wasting up to 30 percent less food, and that thousands of gallons of water per day are being saved.
So how might we take away the tray in the information world? Horwitt suggests that "perhaps the best way to limit the avalanche is to make the technologies that overproduce information more expensive and less widespread." That sounds draconian and unworkable but some sort of limit needs to be established.
I remember talking to an intranet manager who said she thought of her intranet as a night club and her as the security guard. "Sorry, the intranet is full" she would tell people. "Take stuff off before you put stuff on."
A world without limits is a world of chaos. A website without limits is a dump. We need to start calculating the total cost of information. How much to create? How much to publish? How much to find? How much to consume? How much if it's wrong? How much to maintain?
One more cost: How much does it cost when a piece of information makes it harder to find a more valuable piece of information?
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.