Clay Shirky said once that it wasn’t information overload, but filter failure. Although he is right, I think there is even an bigger issue than just failing filters. It is the endless need of people nowadays to consume more data. Since we have the tools to select, to store and archive all the data we want, we just do that. I don’t how many people I talked with last year about the enormous pile of links, webpages, pdfs and other documents they were planning to read. When they ran into something: swoosh…. adding it to readitlater, instapaper, web2pdf or any other service you could think of to store it and to read it later (mainly: not reading it all anymore).
However, with the endless (free) opportunity to store things and the ease of use to add articles to a read it later list, people are killing their information consumption. Since there is no limit on RSS feeds in for example Google Reader, people tend to add as many feeds as they ran into. Adding them is free and easy, so why not add them. However they are complaining at the same time that they still have 1000+ items unread in Google Reader.
While they add the content themselves, it seems they blame the content producers for writing too much content to read. It is like blaming McDonalds for fulfulling your order of 10 BigMacs and you are so stuffed you can only eat 8. McDonalds is just doing the thing you’d ask them to do, content creators are just doing the same. If you hadn’t been so greedy, you were not suffering of 1000+ unread items in your RSS reader or in a huge (virtual pile) of documents.
Put yourself on a diet
So put yourself on a diet, don’t be greedy. Every feed that has more than 15 unread items in your RSS reader isn’t worth reading, if you’d really care enough about the content of that feed less items would be unread. So remove those feeds, don’t be afraid that you’ll miss the content, you are missing it already because you are not reading it. If something is on your read it later list for more than 48 hours, remove it, if it was really interesting, you’d read in the mean time. If you only read in the weekend, remove all the unread items on Sundays, if the content was interesting you’d read them already.
If things are important they will come to you. There is no need for digital packratting. Although there are no costs for it, you sure pay a price by cluttering your information flow.
Your incentive for less information overload
If you have a hard time in selecting what things you should put on your read-it-later list, create this simple rule: put 1 cent in a jar for every item your set away for later reading and put 5 cents in the jar for every item you put away but didn’t read. Put 10 cent in a jar for every RSS feed you add to your RSS reader and put 1 cent in the jar for every item in a RSS feed you did not read after 48 hours.
After a year: get the money out of the jar and give it to charity; at least somebody will then benefit from your greediness.