Signs of Plague

Have you noticed more and more online people are feeling burned out and unproductive? I am. So are Gavin Bowman and Keith Casey. So is Ryan Carson. So are a lot of people.

One case is one thing. Two are a coincidence. Four? Four hundred thousand? This is no coincidence.

I see two possibilities: brain sucking aliens are draining our minds through the Internet – the ultimate killer app. Or, something else is going on. I’m hoping its something else – better odds.

I think what’s happening is more and more people are edging over the Information Overload line. That line is kind of like the little red bars on the Tachometer in your car that measure Revolutions Per Minute if you drive a manual shift: you can rev the engine that high, but don’t be surprised if you burn it out and it buck right out of the chassis and jumps 20 feet in the air and splats your head like a bug.

Now I have a pretty high redline. When I was a reporter, I could literally jump from one entire gestalt to the next in 10 seconds flat, all day long, every day. Being able to soak up mega-gallons of business and technical information, month in and month out has been my chief competitive advantage as I toiled away as a contract developer for 20+ years.

That was then, this is now, and now isn’t working very well.

In the last few years my information intake like everyone else’s has shot off the goddamned map. Like right now: I’m using 2 pc’s with one mouse and keyboard. On one I’ve got Jimmy Cliff’s Take Your Time playing via iTunes, Outlook, the Codesnipers blog posting window + 4 in FireFox and Word open. On the other I’ve got FF open with 13 tabs, FeedDemon pumping RSS like there’s no tomorrow. All. At. The. Same. Time.

Is this fun? Well, yes! But I think the dark side of Information Overload (IO) is rising in my life, as it is in yours.

About a month and a half ago I decided that finding new personal, professional and micro-ISV ways of coping with the IO plague had to be my top priority. So, like I said in last week’s post, expect to hear more on this topic from me here, and elsewhere. I don’t pretend to have the right answer, but I will be asking the right questions.

The plague is here, and it’s no joke.


Bob, good points. The sheer amount of information I deal with on a daily basis is sometimes stunning. I finally got smart though and sent my relevant mailing lists to my Gmail account and all business-related stuff locally. This allows me to search through the mailinglist contents without having to actually read them...

The rest has been simplified by tying together things like dotproject, SugarCRM, and Mantis. I can look at everything through a single interface and not have to have numerous tabs/windows open.

But I think one of the things driving this "mass burnout" feeling is that we've all been doing this now for a while... August will be two years since I started doing CaseySoftware on the side but I've been doing it fulltime since January 2005.

I think many of us have reached the point where the effort involved in keeping things moving is quite large but if we make it past there, even better things should be ahead...

...But it's not just you, or me

Good tips re how to GTD in your micro-ISV, and I will be checking them out after this post.

It may be part 2 year burnout, but I think there's more going on than that. It's not just the growth of the online world, but how that growth is accelerating. The sheer number of things carving chunks of my attention out of my life is getting out of hand, and I bet the same can be said for a lot of people reading this.

I think its time for the developer community to stop ignoring this issue and address it. We need a whole new class of software to address this problem. And it is a problem, not just for developers, but for everyday joes and janes who are finding themselves sucked into the online world as more of their economic and social activity goes there.

...And now Bill Gates

From yesterday's Bill Gates "Executive Email", this on the same subject:

"Productivity: Information fatigue is one inevitable result of information overload. We are working to develop tools that help information workers prioritize their work and focus on the tasks that are truly important. At the same time, we are working to create unified communication solutions that provide a single entry point to all of the tools we use to communicate with coworkers and customers. "

Like I said - this is not a you problem or a me problem, it is an everybody problem.

Finding the cure

Good luck curing or coping with IO, it sounds like a difficult and noble goal. Also, if there happens to be a product or service at the end of it all, I'm sure it will be a rewarding one.