Clay Shirky, an author and an instructor at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, says personal lives are a thing of the past, privacy is an information management problem and life is quickly becoming a systems design issue.
Shirky, speaking at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York, made an interesting case that folks aren't plagued by information overload--a problem forever--but filter issues. His point has wide ramifications--privacy can be had if you engineer a proper system to manage information. Notice Shirky said that more laws and regulation aren't needed. Why? You only had privacy and a personal life before because it was too inconvenient to spy on you. "Back in the day we had our personal life. We don't have personal life anymore," said Shirky.
The anecdotes of Shirky's talk--someone changing a relationship status on Facebook and letting everyone know she was dumped, how you can never keep spam at bay and how a student got in trouble for keeping a Facebook study group--highlight the filter issue. There's too much information out there and the filters are breaking down.
Simply put, life is becoming a filter failure issue. "We're breaking the system we got," said Shirky. "We don't have the proper tools."
Shirky said it's not like you can start coding your way out of this filter mess either. He added that the information overload problem may not be a problem. It may be a fact. "What's changing is what we used as filters for 500 years are broken," he said.
In other words, there's a race on. Some of the fix is programming--tags, community voting etc., but social norms will have to change. Shirky raised an interesting point. The problem: He didn't have any creative fixes to suggest. In fact, it seemed like his chat was cut short. So while it got folks thinking a bit we're still plagued with information overload.
Meanwhile, I'm not completely convinced information overload isn't a problem, but filters are. For instance, no one is forcing you to have those 2,000 RSS feeds. No one is requiring you to Twitter non-stop. And really: How much of the information that swirls around you is all that important anyway? Take my inbox: I get a hundreds of emails a day. There may be 10 that are important. I could definitely manage my filters better, but that becomes a pain in the rear too. At some point you just have to say no and reckon that if something is super important it will get to you rather quickly anyway.
Shirky didn't have any big prescriptions, but it was enough to spark a discussion. When it comes to information overload, are filters the problem? Or you?