The critics are right: information overload is killing us. Let me explain.
I just returned from a week's vacation. I went on a cruise to Mexico and the Cayman Islands and I was completely without digital communications of any kind. Forget email, instant messaging or Twitter–I didn't have my cell phone. As a result, my communication with other people was much more focused.
Conversations with other people were much more cohesive. I retained more of what was said, and the usual scattered nature caused by all participants checking their mobile was gone. Likewise, information gathering via reading or TV was more streamlined. Whatever I was doing received my full attention.
Now that I've returned to civilization, I'm shocked by how distracting my life is. Even after I've worked through thousands of emails and countless messages in social media I still find myself bombarded by constant notifications that I have more information. The combined feed of IM, email, Twitter, RSS and other messaging services is overwhelming. It seems that in just one week I lost my ability to juggle it all.
I find myself asking if this significant. Would my family, company and clients be better if I offered them my complete attention sequentially instead of partial attention constantly? Have we sacrificed quality of focus in exchange for quantity of availability as a society? Would I do better work if I shut down messaging while working on client projects, or would my clients be frustrated that I was more difficult to reach while doing work for them?
I don't know the answer, but I'm inclined to find out.