Over the past year or more I have become a complete information whore.
At first I viewed this as a real asset â€“ I knew everything. Names of all the big players in startups and tech: VCs, founders, new industry competitors, etc. I had access to information no one else knew about; I felt a step ahead of the game.
I have optimized my ability to consume niche information rapidly: reading blog posts via Google Reader and applying tags (340 subscriptions to blogs on social media, venture capital and tech/economics). Daily I consume and tag 30+ websites and articles found by the 94 people whose bookmarks I subscribe to via Del.icio.us. In addition, I make use of various alerts and aggregators like Techmeme.
However, recently two things have happened
1) Information has become â€˜commoditized’ and to â€œme too-yâ€�
2) My ability to read for pleasure has disintegrated
Information has become â€˜commoditized’ in the sense that websites like Techmeme now have powerful algorithms to find niche content and expose it. This strips away any competitive advantage I felt in dutifully â€˜hunting’ for information. Likewise, Techmeme hurts â€˜long tail content’ (despite what you may hear) because it forces authors to all write about the same topics in order to gain readership/traffic. It also means that all readers have access to the same information: it’s no longer a competitive advantage to be the most well read-guy in the room. Plus, because of the â€˜me too’ effect, it’s less likely that really great innovative insights will emerge. How many takes can people possibly have on Facebook’s latest announcement? I now get more information out of reading a post’s comments than I do the actual article.
Also, and perhaps tragically, my ability to read for the sake of pleasure has greatly faltered. I am now trained like clockwork to scan for keywords and main points; reading detailed monologues such as those found in novels has become too boring to maintain my interest. In my new world, rather than read a book, I’m more likely to read the book’s Wikipedia page and then individually research the conclusions/topics. A book’s prose is just filler. When I do read lengthy pieces, I find myself skipping ahead in chapters to reach conclusions. For someone who write often and used to love literature, I know I’m this is not a good thing.
However, I also know I’m not the only one living a world of information overload and rapid dissection. Service like Twitter, as great as they are, put the emphasis on breaking news and facts, but take away from the craft of articulating and analyzing. All this makes me wonder if the future of literature and news is in shorter, factual form? 200 character maximums and short snappy prose like we see popular in Japan, could soon displace traditional literary conventions.
Update: Sean Murphy has a good follow-up post to our exhange in the comments on this post. Also, SEOmoz has a great post confirming that people don’t read long passages of text and The Guardian has an interesting article.