Open Thread: Avoiding Infomania


“Infomania” has been in the news over the past few months, starting for most people with the rather silly story about too much e-mail being worse for your concentration than smoking dope. More recently, and in a more serious vein, researchers from Microsoft, Google, Intel and other corporations gathered at a workshop to discuss what might be done to tame the relentless interruptions that plague the modern office life. From ways to better prioritize incoming e-mail to snooze buttons on interruption generators, these researchers brainstormed ways to help workers spend more time focusing on their primary tasks.

Living as we do in a sea of e-mail, Blackberries, cel phones, Twitter, instant messages, forums, RSS feeds, newsgroups, conference calls, WebEx’s, and videoconferences, web workers may be more familiar with infomania than just about anyone. Some people thrive on this, of course, and wouldn’t change it for the world. Others have, in the words of Dr. Strangelove, learned to stop worrying and love the interruptions. But the rest of us have had to evolve our own defense mechanisms to cope.

What’s your strategy for dealing with infomania? Do you limit your e-mail to specified times? Stick closely to the way of Getting Things Done? Keep a secret second cel phone that only the really important people get the number for? Here’s your chance to share your best tips with other web workers.


Mike Gunderloy

Thanks for reminding me about Touchstone, Nick – they’re one of several players in the “attention” space. My big worry about depending on that sort of service is that I’d lose the benefits of serendipity: what if I subscribe to something like Touchstone and it learns too rigidly what I’m interested in, and I stop tripping over wonderful new stuff? But of course there has to be a balance between filtering and looking over the walls to see what’s going on elsewhere.


In the end though I have a feeling that someone like google or some hot startup is going to develop algorithms that allows us to see the most important stuff too us on top and everything else only when we have the time for it.

Actually, the folks of Touchstone have something similar in the works. Their goal is to create a software that creates an attention profile of the user and filters incoming news feeds accordingly to show only the items most important to the user. Touchstone is currently in ‘almost beta’ as they call it, which I think can be applied for by subscribing to the newsletter.


I think we can all control the flow of information on the Web and through RSS. We can simply choose not to read it if we’re busy. We can also restrict our e-mail checking and turn off any pop-up alerts if we want. And we can send our phone to voicemail. What we can’t control is people walking up to our cube entrances unexpectedly and interrupting us. I have no way of stopping it. I can’t close a door and lock it behind me and I’m not allowed to work from home. I’ve been praying for the day when corporate America abandons the “open office” concept and gives every office worker a huge productivity boost by giving us a door to close.


Gmail and Google Reader are my main information filters at the moment. I echo Alex above, using the built-in analysis in Reader can help identify feeds you don’t use/rely on that often.

The problem is that at work, I can only use Outlook (security restrictions). There are also little to no RSS feeds on our intranet. So at the moment, I am still trying to figure out the best MO while at work (not entirely a web-worker…yet).


Be ruthless about what you let in your info stream. I am constantly reviewing my blog reader. Asking my self do I really need to read everything that comes out of boing boing, or is this new blog really that interesting.Also google blog trends is becoming a huge help because I can use the statistics to see blogs that I didn’t even know that I wasn’t reading.

I am trying hard to make everything move through a single source. Right now I am at email and RSS. I can get almost any information delivered to me in those formats. But its not enough. I want my doctors appoints to show up and I want him to put them in there. I want my bank statement to be in my RSS feed. I want my homework to show up in RSS.

In the end though I have a feeling that someone like google or some hot startup is going to develop algorithms that allows us to see the most important stuff too us on top and everything else only when we have the time for it.

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