[T]he first visitors to the web spent their time online reading web magazines. Then came blogs, then Facebook, then Twitter. Now itâ€™s Facebook videos and Instagram and SnapChat that most people spend their time on. Thereâ€™s less and less text to read on social networks, and more and more video to watch, more and more images to look at. Are we witnessing a decline of reading on the web in favor of watching and listening?
Is this trend driven by peopleâ€™s changing cultural habits, or is it that people are following the new laws of social networking? I donâ€™t knowâ€Šâ€”â€Šthatâ€™s for researchers to find outâ€Šâ€”â€Šbut it feels like itâ€™s reviving old cultural wars. After all, the web started out by imitating books and for many years, it was heavily dominated by text, by hypertext. Search engines put huge value on these things, and entire companiesâ€Šâ€”â€Šentire monopoliesâ€Šâ€”â€Šwere built off the back of them. But as the number of image scanners and digital photos and video cameras grows exponentially, this seems to be changing. Search tools are starting to add advanced image recognition algorithms; advertising money is flowing there.
But the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communicationâ€Šâ€”â€Šnodes and networks and linksâ€Šâ€”â€Štoward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies.
The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.
Nicholas Carr, Roughtype:
One of the traps we fall into when we talk about information overload is that weâ€™re usually talking about two very different things as if they were one thing. Information overload actually takes two forms, which Iâ€™ll call situational overload and ambient overload, and they need to be treated separately.
Situational overload is the needle-in-the-haystack problem: You need a particular piece of information â€“ in order to answer a question of one sort or another â€“ and that piece of information is buried in a bunch of other pieces of information. The challenge is to pinpoint the required information, to extract the needle from the haystack, and to do it as quickly as possible. Filters have always been pretty effective at solving the problem of situational overload. The introduction of indexes and concordances â€“ made possible by the earlier invention of alphabetization â€“ helped solve the problem with books. Card catalogues and the Dewey decimal system helped solve the problem with libraries. Train and boat schedules helped solve the problem with transport. The Readerâ€™s Guide to Periodicals helped solve the problem with magazines. And search engines and other computerized navigational and organizational tools have helped solve the problem with online databases.
Whenever a new information medium comes along, we tend to quickly develop good filtering tools that enable us to sort and search the contents of the medium. Thatâ€™s as true today as itâ€™s ever been. In general, I think you could make a strong case that, even though the amount of information available to us has exploded in recent years, the problem of situational overload has continued to abate. Yes, there are still frustrating moments when our filters give us the hay instead of the needle, but for most questions most of the time, search engines and other digital filters, or software-based, human-powered filters like email or Twitter, are able to serve up good answers in an eyeblink or two.
Situational overload is not the problem. When we complain about information overload, what weâ€™re usually complaining about is ambient overload. This is an altogether different beast. Ambient overload doesnâ€™t involve needles in haystacks. It involves haystack-sized piles of needles. We experience ambient overload when weâ€™re surrounded by so much information that is of immediate interest to us that we feel overwhelmed by the neverending pressure of trying to keep up with it all. We keep clicking links, keep hitting the refresh key, keep opening new tabs, keep checking email in-boxes and RSS feeds, keep scanning Amazon and Netflix recommendations â€“ and yet the pile of interesting information never shrinks.
The cause of situational overload is too much noise. The cause of ambient overload is too much signal.