This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

March 19, 2003 - Too Much Information

Some 12 years ago, I wrote a professional article that a lot of my colleagues ridiculed.

I was talking about email, then beginning to be hailed as a kind of perfect communication tool, both intimate and immediate.

"Mark my words," I wrote. "Coming tomorrow -- junk email."

OK, I got the name wrong. Today it's called "spam" (after the hilarious Monty Python sketch). But I nailed the idea.

At this moment, the dawn of the 21st century, it is estimated that spam costs corporate America at least $10 billion per year of lost productivity.

Nowadays, many of us also have personal email accounts. It's hard to calculate the personal cost of spam. Certainly, there is some entertainment value. A full 80% of my unsolicited email has to do with increasing the size of various body parts (40% male parts, 40% female). Most of the others have to do with reducing all the rest of me.

Now that's funny, and I'll happily ante up some of my time for a laugh. But not for the same joke, not every day, day after day, week after week, year after year.

Fortunately, what technology hath wrought it can also rend asunder.

Apple's new operating system includes an email enhancement that, in the background, tells the spammer that your address is invalid. Sorry!

Mozilla -- the blindingly fast (and free!) Open Source browser and email program -- is about to offer a similar service. Like the Mac software, it lets you tell it what you think is spam. Correct it for a while. Then let it run. (Incidentally, Mozilla also lets you disable, with one click under your "preferences," those annoying popup ads you get when you're browsing the Internet.)

Lately, I'm investigating options (mostly through another Open Source program called Evolution) to automatically sort my email, to move it from inbox to folder, the folders arranged by how often I need to look at them. And I'm also sending a lot of those emails to a folder I call " spam."

I believe in the value of information. But too much information, flooding my inbox, is just noise.

Sometimes you have to manage your life as if it were a library. You have to categorize, and sort, and assign some value to all the traffic.

I suppose it's sad that much of that email traffic is worthless. But I've concluded that you have a choice. Give your time, give your life, to the importunities of strangers. Or assert the priorities you've so painfully established.

The library itself works hard to winnow the wheat from the chaff. Our online databases, for instance, comprise only the best sources. It's the difference between the authoritative advice of a knowledgeable friend you trust, or a random Google search. It's the difference between email that matters and trash.

It's the difference finally, between meaning and noise.

No comments:

Post a Comment