Friday, September 9, 2011

Sherlock Holmes and the Solution to "Information Overload"



The greatest fictional mind in literary history had no idea that the earth rotated around the sun. When informed of the Copernican model of our solar system, he replied, "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."



In Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's story, A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes went on to say, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose."

"A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work...It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones...You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.""

These days many of us with access to the internet complain of "information overload". We are inundated with so much data that we are familiar with everything, but master of nothing. The knowledge we absorb is crammed so tight inside our skulls that we can't seem to make any meaningful connections out of the mess.

Sherlock had the answer: sort through your every stimulus and only take in that which pertains to your interests. Be selective. There are many tools at your disposal to sift through the web for the information you want, and just as many tools to block out the unwanted.

As my friend Regis Lacher is fond of saying, "It isn't 'information overload' it's 'Filter Failure.'"

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