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Information overload at MWF2011

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By Kaye Blum

The Forum Melbourne Writers Festival

The Forum, Melbourne, overlooking the site of the Melbourne Writers Festival. But the real forum for the festival was happening on Twitter.

There were quite a few panels featuring Jay Rosen at MWF2011 and most of them had, naturally, a journalism focus. While this is of interest to me, my research is more concerned with the impacts of new media technologies on writers of longer form non-fiction or fiction; and how specific groups can connect. But the MWF blurb for the session titled Information Overload got me in:

Has the endlessly ballooning internet sacrificed quality of information for quantity? Net culture researcher Suelette Dreyfus (Hacker), citizen journalism advocate Jay Rosen (Rebooting the News) and Jeremy Goldkorn (danwei.org) discuss the limits of helpful data and whether the net, while changing lives, is also changing our social structures. Chaired by Jeff Sparrow.

I wanted to take my iPad to all MWF sessions to take notes, but because I find it impossible to touch-type on its keypad, I stayed old-school with my notebook and pen. So here are some of the most relevant points I gleaned from my notes on this session (held on 28th August 2011 at Federation Square)…

Rosen quoted someone whose name I missed (sorry!): “There’s no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure”. He named Google, Technorati and Google’s blog search function as key filters. “It comes in waves,” he added; “the technology, the tools, the flood of information, then the filters.”

He commented on one of the things that is radically changing the world – the falling cost of like-minded people being able to find each other, share information, pool what they know and publish to the world. “The internet is extremely efficient at doing this. That’s powerful. When they discover they’re not the only ones, that’s liberating.”

It’s this last statement that has resonance for me. When I was a teenager (in a pre-internet era), music on the radio was my window to the world. Sometimes I found song lyrics that created a connecting moment and made me realize I wasn’t alone, wasn’t the only one feeling this way. A few books did the same thing, but the school library was fairly limited.

These little connecting moments, even if they come from across the world, can be a lifeline for some. The internet turns these connecting moments into real dialogue, real connections.

As Rosen noted, social revolutions can happen now that people can connect with other like-minded people. “Information is a measure of uncertainty reduced” he said. I tweeted that last line and got some challenging replies.

Speaking of Twitter and connections, #MWF2011 was the first time I’ve engaged in this platform during a conference and I found it an enlightening experience. It was invaluable being part of the festival community through this channel and I met many like-minded people as a consequence. But the event’s Tweeting Award goes to Charlotte Harper @ebookish – her supreme two-finger typing on an iPad provided a constant Twitter stream of awesome quotes from every event she attended.

Another unexpected delight from tuning into Twitter was scoring a free ticket (thanks @kateyharc) to the MWF session, A Long Way To Go: Why We Still Need Feminism. Sophie Cunningham’s fact-loaded essay was both frightening and fascinating; but also inspiring. You can watch it here thanks to SlowTV.

By the end of the festival, I found myself suffering a serious case of information overload. I’ve been obsessively addicted to reading Twitter updates to the point that it has become a major distraction. I’ve pretty much ignored Facebook, my usual social media platform of choice. But now I’ve had to switch off all channels so I can try to get some work done. On with it…

A summary of Bookcamp – The Future of Storytelling is up next.

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

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Written by Kaye Blum

September 6, 2011 at 5:41 am

2 Responses

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  1. It was Clay Shirky who said there’s no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure.

    http://lifehacker.com/5052851/information-overload-is-filter-failure-says-shirky

    http://www.shirky.com/

    Jay Rosen

    September 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm

  2. Thanks for clarifying, Jay – and so fast! Your filters are obviously working hard!

    Kaye Blum

    September 7, 2011 at 9:44 am


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