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Justin Jacoby Smith is an organizer, web geek, Buddhist, and poet.

find the needle in a stack of needles

We experience ambient information overload when we're surrounded by so much informationthat is of immediate interest to usthat 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 - 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.

This is remarkably lucid. I'm still trying to stake out my place in the battle over info ubiquity--is it paralyzing us or making us masters of the universe?--and Carr's distinction between "situational overload" and "ambient overload" feels really important.

Situational overload, he argues, is the standard needle-in-the-haystack problem we've been getting better at solving since the invention of the card catalog. Ambient overload, on the other hand, is when you're looking at a stack of needles. The first problem is very old, and we've been getting better at solving it, but our solutions have partially created the second problem.

So now what? And who wants to shove their hand in that pile?

There's a part being played here by the old democratization saw too: there wouldn't be a stack's worth of needles if there weren't so many people who thought they could make needles.

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr's Blog: Situational overload and ambient overload.