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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

"The world's total yearly production of print, film, optical, and magnetic content would require roughly 1.5 billion gigabytes of storage. This is the equivalent of 250 megabytes per person for each man, woman, and child on earth." ('How Much Information report,' University of Berkeley)

That's an awful lot of information.

The Berkeley report outlines key challenges that organizations and individuals face in an increasingly information-overloaded society. "The difficulty will be in managing this information effectively: making sure that your suppliers, your employees, and your customers not only have access to the data they need to make informed decisions, but also can locate, manipulate and understand it," the report stated.

Report authors, professors Hal Varian and Peter Lyman, note that our ability to create information has far outpaced our ability to search, organize and publish it. "Information management - at the individual, organizational, and even societal level - may turn out to be one of the key challenges we face," the report stated. "It's the next stage of literacy," Lyman said.

Some interesting findings from the report:
  1. The Web that most of us know (The Internet) currently consists of 2.5 billion documents (up from 800 million in 1999). It is growing at a rate of 7.3 million pages per day.

  2. If you take into account intranets and extranets, you're talking about roughly 550 billion documents

  3. A white-collar worker receives about 40 email messages every day. IDC recently reported that in 2000 10 billion emails are sent every day and that this will rise to 35 billion by 2005.

Never before in history has the human being had such an ability to create information. Never before have we been faced with so much information.

I was at a talk recently with regard to the challenges faced by an information society. The key themes were bandwidth, computers and cheap Internet access. Nobody even mentioned information overload.

We are caught in a technology illusion. Technology companies have been excellent at selling us a dream of the future. "Technology solves all problems" is the mantra. There is a technology race to get more bandwidth, faster computers and bigger hard drives.

It's like the 'arm in the dike' fable in reverse. Remember that story about the brave Dutch boy who when walking one day found that a dike that was keeping the sea out was cracking? He put his arm in the crack to stop the water until help came along.

Today, technology companies are delivering us bigger and badder shovels, diggers and cranes, so that we can smash that dike away. We will have these massive bandwidth pipes, these superfast computers and gigantic hard drives. And we will watch, helplessly, as our lives are totally flooded with information overload.

It's not more bandwidth we need. It's not faster computers. It's not bigger hard drives. It's information literacy we need. We need to create less information of a higher quality. We need to be able to manage information much, much better getting rid of the junk and out-of-date stuff.

We need skills that help us search better, and to be able to judge better and faster the quality of the stuff we find.

There are 550 billion documents available on the entire Internet. I could safely say that 90 percent of these document are rubbish.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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