By 2014 internet traffic will triple in volume to 64 exabytes a month globally, according to Cisco's (probably conservative) estimate, but your ability to filter the tsunamai of online information it is so easy for you to personally invoke is a much larger issue.
My main email inbox is ground zero for the communications flowing in from thousands of sites and individuals worldwide. Some originate from professional and personal contacts I have initiated by email or via websites, including collaboration communities. Others are propositions and introductions, from the professional to the bizarre, and then there's the spam mountain hidden behind the filters we sometimes have to dip into in order to find a legitimate communication.
An example of how tangled our lives have become is this personal example: I received an email via a YouTube subscription with someone I've never met personally to tell me he noticed a much loved French teacher Jeff Vent from my old school had died. I went to my youtube.com/inbox to respond and then separately wrote to my email only friends who were also taught by Jeff, and put up a post on a private community I run for old friends from that era of my childhood.
Shortly after that various emails started flying around repeating the news via various people, the news hit Facebook and soon several tribute and R.I.P. pages appeared you could 'like' to join.
This fragmentation is being enormously amplified by web interactions cascading back to your core email account, with signal to noise ratios rising exponentially.
The term 'signal to noise' is historically literally the ratio of the strength of an electrical or other signal carrying information to that of interference, generally expressed in decibels of sound. More informally it's used to describe how much useful information there is in a system, such as the internet, as a proportion of entire contents.
Signal to noise was originally often used to describe broadcast and ham radio signal when that medium exploded in popularity in the 1920's, much as the web has grown exponentially in our current era. Radio's equivalent of exabytes back then were megawatts, and the golden era of interaction via radio soon gave way to controlled commercial channels as the cost of broadcast mediums at scale rose exponentially.
The most interesting parallel of that era for me is Reader's Digest magazine, which was hugely popular throughout most the last century, providing condensed versions of longer form books and articles, not unlike today's 'Cliff's Notes' academic aids. It was, and still is, the fast food of limited information consumption.
Founded in 1922 by DeWitt Wallace and Lila Bell Wallace and with a current global circulation of 17 million, RD is the largest paid circulation magazine in the world and was the best-selling consumer magazine in the U.S until 1989. Global editions reach more than 70 countries, with 50 editions in 21 languages.
While recovering from injuries received in World War I, Dewitt Wallace gathered samplings of favorite articles on many subjects from various monthly magazines, sometimes condensing and rewriting them in order to combine them into one magazine. At the time this was a revolutionary idea - he believed that people were overwhelmed by too much information and needed help sorting it out. He began culling what he considered the best stories from other publications and condensing them into easily consumable pieces and after being laid off from his job in 1922 got the publication up and running.
The Reader's Digest arguably devolved over time into the fast food of information as it expanded - criticism of the Digest often cites reductionism to banality and low quality content.
Today everyone can create and publish their own digital 'Reader's Digest' style materials now that the challenges and expense of print and distribution are gone; aggregating and repurposing other people's materials is simple with web services such as paper.li. The current 'social media' fashion is essentially to condense and redistribute information as quickly and topically as possible, sometimes leaving out important constituent parts for increased brevity.
The sheer overlap of repeated and redundant information in a world where it is trivial to publish short form information online can be enormously time consuming if you burn some time to watch, for example, everyone you follow on Twitter regurgitating some hot news as if they are all running competing breaking news bureaus.
The challenge for the consumer of this tsunamai of information is in filtering all this with your limited time to find something useful from it...a jigsaw of fragmented but similar published versions by multiple parties can be put back together if you have the time and patience to reconstitute the whole.
While these behavior patterns may work for groups of enthusiasts choosing to spend their time in this way, outside of certain relatively informed and sophisticated verticals such as journalism/blogging, analysis and research work, this is arguably a highly inefficient way of professionally collaborating inside a business. If you've ever managed teams of people you'll know how hard it can be getting everyone pointing in the same direction towards common goals, and the huge personality types - from shy to verbose, and from complacent to passive aggressive to openly hostile.
As technology starts to get to grips with enabling and facilitating social interaction across large distributed groups of people we are in a difficult period when clumsy personal use models ('liking' a funeral; scant understanding or provision for our multiple personal social circles; lack of experience and sophistication around visibility and security of sensitive information) are hard to collectively use consistently.
In the business world we are reliant on interacting with existing technologies as well as new ones; there's tremendous value in team members condensing information and distributing it to make it comprehensible to their cohorts, but it's highly inefficient if everyone is publishing their version of common information in their own silos peppered with idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies...the modern version of multiple versions of email attachments...
Fast food photo is of the new 'In n Out' Drive Through Restaurant in Santa Rosa California which the Press Democrat reports is causing huge traffic jams