How Should we Deal With Information Overload?

Last fall, Undergraduate Student Government leaders took up the topic of campus safety with assistance from Dan Meuwissen, director of Public Safety at St. Thomas.

USG had done a survey of students about various aspects of campus safety, but one in particular caught my attention. The survey asked students if they knew about the blue light system. Well, none of them mentioned Kmart specials, but less than half of the respondents knew that the blue lights showed the location of an emergency call box connected to campus Public Safety. Understandably concerned that students are generally unaware of this important safety measure, the USG representatives discussed ways to get the word out.

Getting the word out is increasingly difficult in our information-fractured world. First, the students suggested featuring blue lights in campus tours and freshman orientation. But they are already included! Students hear about security measures along with masses of other information about their new university home. There’s only so much one can assimilate at once. Clearly, information overload is taking its toll.

Next, the students suggested a story in Do students read this regularly? I’m such a fogey it’s hard for me to say. I miss the Friday Aquin. I did read it once a week, but I confess that I’m not likely to log into Tommiemedia. I’m not likely to read blogs either – except for The Scroll, of course. Honestly, I like my news more filtered than that.

I always read Bulletin Today. Usually, the information I really need (such as the extra days off during the week after Christmas) can be found there, so I am not too far out of the loop. But I have colleagues who use the spam filter for Bulletin Today.

How can the university make the best effort to keep the community informed? Maybe twitter and tweet, tweet, tweet? The university subscribes to an emergency call service for use in extreme situations, but most of our information needs are not in that category. As individuals, how can we keep informed without being swamped by too much information?

And then there’s disinformation. Enough falsehoods and scams are out there to keep in overdrive. Oh, and that reminds me. St. Thomas no longer has to worry about where to find money for next year’s budget. I’m going to share the 70 million euro, $130 million and 40 million pounds that my various Internet correspondents have informed is coming to me just this week alone. There may have been more, but my understanding of Mandarin, German, and Arabic are not good enough for me to say for sure.