Chapter 3: Information Overload – Coping Mechanisms for the Internet age
[Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Brown ’13, Jessie Lillis ’13, Kyle Ruedinger ’13, and Amy Browender ’13 are writing alternating monthly entries for the Ripon College Newsletter chronicling their post-graduation experiences. We hope you enjoy their perspectives on Life After Ripon!]
Do you ever feel like there are simply too many technological terms to keep up with? It’s practically its own language. Terms like browser, cookies, apps, virus, spiders, scrapping, virtual browsing, database, infographic and others that didn’t exist previously because the concepts didn’t exist either. Now, years after the launch of the Internet, we are presented with more technological jargon and more information than ever before. Of course, you already know this, and anyone who’s made it this far into a blog post knows what a browser is. However, this doesn’t do away with the deluge of information that follows, leading to . . . infobesity—it’s a real term, no joke. Some folks find this term repulsive, and you are entitled to as well. In the library science world, this roughly translates into having more information than you know what to do with. Too much information is overwhelming, causes anxiety, and ultimately can lead to shutting off information streams to try and handle the cascades of information available. Sounds like every day in graduate school—just kidding, only some days.
While representing a very multifaceted area of work, Library and Information Science is fundamentally about managing information. Not about filtering information or censoring it, but about organizing it to make it accessible. When it comes to managing your daily information intake, that’s up to you. But when the conversation is about archiving 400 million tweets a day (see Library Journal for those who are skeptical on the subject), that’s way more than archiving some Word documents on the desktop.
One of the major issues that results from having so much information is that it means searching for good information gets trickier. However, understanding the backend of searching makes it a little easier. Therefore, here are some things I’ve learned thus far to cope with information overload.
I’ll focus on Google because unlike the obscure and extremely backend stuff that some areas of library science deal with, this is something most of us see on a regular basis. Google operates by using complex algorithms to determine what results you get on your first results page, and let’s be honest, even though your search returned 4,000,000 results, who ever looks past the first page? Therefore, it’s in Google’s best interest to rank your results so that information you want is on the very first page.
Three ways Google goes about doing that include:
1) Bringing you websites that are similar to other sites you clicked on.
2) Pulling back websites that more people have linked to.
3) Recommending websites that others have viewed.
There’s a lot more that goes into ranking which websites come up in your results list, such as your location, IP address, and many other hidden algorithms. However, it’s helpful to understand this when you’re searching for things you usually don’t look for and the results seem really random—there’s a reason.
One way you can start limiting your 4,000,000 results is to add different search functions to your searches. For example, using “site: .org” with whatever else you’re searching will bring back only websites that end in “.org.” The same is true for .edu, .com, .gov, etc. Another fun one is to use “[term of interest] source: [source you want searched].” This is nice if someone is always telling you about yet another great article they read on libraries in Huffington Post. All you have to do is search “libraries source: Huffington Post” and boom, magic happens and you get only things from Huffington Post. One of my favorite search functions is using “related: [website that you like],” which searches for things that are similar to what you entered.
If you’re not getting shivers of excitement from talking about the magical world of website ranking algorithms, don’t worry, you’re not the first. However, this is a peek into the search world of library science and some of the discussions that get batted around on a daily basis.
Elizabeth H. Brown ’13
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