We’re flooded, drowning in information. We’re better than ever at collecting the dots, worse than ever at connecting the dots. This is true at the level of national security, business intelligence, customer and vendor relationship management and the personal daily real-time streams we audit. We cast our nets wider than ever and catch everything. Nothing escapes our grasp.
This high-velocity firehose of messages seems to imply that something is going on. But the items that pass through this pipe require additional filtering to find out whether anything important is really going on. The violence and the sheer volume of messages are an indicator, a message about the medium itself, but the individual messages pass by so quickly that one only gets a sense of their general direction and whether they carry a positive or negative charge. Oddly, there’s a disconnect between message traffic and whether something important is going on. There’s always a high volume of message traffic, there’s rarely anything going on.
Creeps in this petty pace from day to dayTo the last syllable of recorded time,And all our yesterdays have lighted foolsThe way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour upon the stageAnd then is heard no more: it is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.
The Atlantic Wire’s series ‘What I Read‘ asks various notable personalities about their media diet. When confronted with an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, how does one choose what to eat? A recent column contained thoughts by Wired editor Chris Anderson on his foraging techniques. One of the best filters that Anderson uses is free of charge, and given to him by a friend:
Nassim Taleb once advised people to ignore any news you don’t hear in a social context. From people you know and, ideally, face to face. You have two combinatorial filters in social communication. First, you’ve chosen to talk with these people, and second, they’ve chosen to bring it up. Those two filters–a social and an importance filter–are really good ways of identifying what really matters to people. If I hear about news through social means, and if I hear about it three times, then I pay attention.
The interesting thing about this technique is that it doesn’t require Network scale technical capability. Spidering the entire Network and running a query through a relevance algorithm isn’t part of the picture. Trading your personal information for access to large scale cloud-based computational capabilities isn’t required either. Authentically connecting with people to learn what really matters to people is the key.
It turns out that not much matters to a mechanical or computational process. While it can sort items into a prioritized list based on this algorithm, or that one, the question of which algorithm should be used is a matter of indifference. And when we crank up the social context to extreme levels, we create some confusion around Taleb’s filters. Not every social media interaction provides the kind of social context Taleb is referring to. Only in their simplest and least technical incarnation, do these combinatorial filters provide high quality output. And despite all the sound and fury, the manifestations of speed whirling around us, “things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do.“