Nicholas Carr – Information Overload 2011 Speech


If you haven’t read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and have concerns about the distracting nature of data overload, I highly recommend watching this 15 minute video. The presentation is titled The dark side of the information revolution and took place in June 2011 for The Economist.

5 thoughts on “Nicholas Carr – Information Overload 2011 Speech

  1. Every innovation in technology has negative effects once it becomes widespread. Agriculture – decreased nutrition, social division. Oil – environmental destruction. Cars – pollution, automobile deaths. Computers – (see above). Long-term memory’s been under assault since the invention of writing.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Carr’s ideas, and can see the effects of data overload in my own brain every day. I don’t follow the news or own a TV or smartphone, but just using the internet is enough to cultivate a new model of attention and focus. At the same time, the internet is a tremendous resource, and time only moves forward; you can’t fight what’s coming. The trick is to make the most of a technology while educating yourself about its pitfalls in order to avoid them. I’ve benefited a lot from the information in the internet, but I’m trying to slow down my reading; chew each page for a minute before swallowing and opening a new tab. I try not to spend time on sites that are clearly a waste of time.

    The best way to cut down on your information input is to DO THINGS that don’t involve information overload (it’s a lot easier than just trying to NOT absorb information). Reading is a big one for me – it’s information, but it cultivates a much more focused approach to learning. Biking, walking around town, going for a hike, writing, playing music, meditating, cooking, eating a meal, spending time with friends – all of these are very focused, present activities that are easy to fill your day with.

    When I first moved into town I had no computer, and had to use the library’s computers, which had a 1-hour time limit. I was amazed at how efficient my internet use became – and how little time I really “needed” to spend on it. It’s possible.

  2. @Dan- Excellent comment. For a long time I thought it was a battle between signal and noise, but once you get excellent filters in place, you find yourself mainlining signal. That isn’t healthy. Stepping away allows us to find meaning in what we’ve absorbed.

  3. Winston

    I agree with the thrust of Carr’s argument. Most of the research shows that “multi-tasking” does not work, specifically that’s it’s counter-productive. I run into a problem frequently with people having no knowledge base and not understanding how to evaluate the credibility of information. Reading a flawed study from a ideological source reprinted in USA Today is not necessarily valid information. Of course, the well documented irrational and cognitive flaws in humans are another layer of difficulty. A cognitive bias is a logical error that we all make over and over repeatedly.

    Evaluating claims and credibility takes experience, long-term knowledge, and judgment. I’ve followed the mainstream or real news for years. I’m constantly challenged by someone on the internet, where’s your link? Well my link is that the assertion is a matter of common knowledge. Maybe if “Mr. internet” had a real base of knowledge about what has happened over the last 30 years, and some credible sources of information, then he or she wouldn’t need a link. They’d just be familiar with the information. Usually these are matters with numerous well sourced books and/or a body of research that has accumulated over the years. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but they’re not entitled to make up their own facts. Making up facts and false claims is a cottage industry in the United States often because commercial interests need fake facts or at least unwarranted confusion to pursue their political or financial goals.

    A good example is scientific findings. You don’t read the Op-Ed pages to determine whether evolution or the science of global warming is accurate. Because no matter how well-intentioned some ideologue or minister may be, science isn’t conducted in the opinion pages of newspapers or on internet blogs. The validity of scientific claims are not something we vote on.

    Science is performed by real scientists, using the scientific method and published in peer-reviewed journals that lay out the evidence precisely and that invite rebuttal. So when an oil and gas industry lobbyist proclaims that their funded researcher doesn’t agree with the other 98 percent of climate scientists, that’s a problem for me. Especially when their papers haven’t been deemed worthy of publication in a science journal. Regardless of what a person believes about the significance of human evolution, the fact of human evolution isn’t in question.

    Claims on the internet or in the news are just the starting point. They have to be considered and weighed over a long period of time. Claims have to be subjected to reality testing and placed into context and given an appropriate meaning. The internet and quick access to information is a wonderful thing when properly utilized. Information or data overload makes it much harder to place information into context and understanding its real significance.

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