Posts tagged ‘information overload’

CC03: Build a digital village

Last week I delivered the third in my series of Toastmasters Competent Communication presentations. Project 3 involves getting to the point and your objectives are to determine the general and specific purpose of the speech; organise the speech accordingly; project sincerity and conviction; and control nervousness and not use notes.

Because it is coming up to the end of the Toastmaster’s year, I missed out on a speaking slot at our last meeting – understandably preference is given to people near the end of a level. Fortunately the brilliant Evadne Kortje arranged a Speakathon – where six of us had the chance to speak and be evaluated. Also nice was the fact that members of other clubs joined in.

My speech was entitled Build a digital village. Its general purpose was to inform, and its specific purpose was to give people tips on how to control the massive amount of information we receive daily.

Here it is:


Every day I check out the Facebook photos of a baby belonging to someone I worked with 10 years ago, and haven’t spoken to since. I receive adverts via MMS on my cell phone for things I don’t want from people I never gave my number to. I receive tweets on Twitter about French wines I am unlikely to ever taste. I get LinkedIn requests from people who took a liking to my profile pic. Oh, and of course, don’t forget about all the lotteries I have won, and embezzled central African funds I get news of via email. Good thing too, because somehow I’m going to have to pay for all the Viagra I’m being offered.

Good grief, it’s a quarter past 10 and I am only starting work now!

You’d think from this that I am a bit of a Luddite and would rather go back to the days of news arriving by mail boat, six months out of date. “Oh so we beat the Germans then did we? Jolly good!”

Not at all. I find the whole idea of a connected society and information economy tremendously exciting and filled with possibilities. Not only from the practical point of view:  I can do business with anyone in the world, to the more philosophical: it’s really hard to hate an entire nation on the other side of the world and go to war with them, when a bunch of my friends on Facebook come from there.

But I do need to manage the flood of information that arrives at my doorstep every day.

A few years ago I went to Sao Paulo in Brazil for a business trip. As I approached the city, I noticed something a bit strange. Bear in mind that at the time Sao Paulo was one of the world’s 3 largest cities. Unlike most cities, which gradually grow as you move from the suburbs towards the business centre, Sao Paulo seemed to be one huge monstrosity taking up the entire horizon.

After a few days of sitting in traffic for hours on end, I asked our local MD, Felipe, how on anyone survived living in this crazy place. I’ll always remember his explanation: “you carve out a triangle with where you live, work and play at the points, and build your own village” – now this is in a city of just under 20 million people.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently in the context of managing the vast quantities of information that we are bombarded with, thanks to that fabulous thing called the World Wide Web. And I think this village idea might be a good way to help us deal with this information overload.

We need to make this information bombardment work for us, not against us.

This is where the advice of Felipe in Sao Paulo becomes incredibly useful. We need to carve out an online village for ourselves that allows us to live, work and play – and stay sane.

Fortunately, the technology that has caused the disease, gives us a few useful tools for the cure as well.

Here are a couple that I try to use.

Only connect to and engage with people who add value. Just like Felipe isn’t friends with all 20 million people in Sao Paulo, don’t try and be a friend to all – get rid of the time wasters.

Use alert tools or readers to automatically monitor subjects you are interested in – and then once a day or once a week have a quick read. Similarly Felipe might read a local community newspaper, to find out what is immediately relevant to him and his village.

Switch off your email or turn off your mobile phone for a few hours at a time. The sky won’t fall in, I promise.

Here’s a bit of a scary one, but I’ve tried it and it works. Have a media black-out. Ignore the news. If you have your village set up correctly, any news you need to know will come to you.

So don’t try and consume all the information that is out there – just like Felipe carved out a section of Sao Paulo and made it work for him – carve out areas of interest, specialist knowledge and value and make the information overload in 2009 work for you.


16 June, 2009 at 7:44 pm Leave a comment

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