Information Overload Or Filter Failure, Learning To Detect The Crap

A fish taking a crap in the sea because of information overload.
A fish taking a crap in the sea

Information overload seems to make sense when you’re in a sea of information with so much to see and read. But is that really the problem? Are we consuming so much information that we are unable to distinguish between what is true and what is false? Or is the problem with our individual crap filter? How do we as people in the information age filter out the crap?

Filter Failure

I view the Internet a lot like how I view the ocean. Limitless and immense, one could spend their entire life exploring the ocean and still not even see a measurable fraction of it. The same is true for the Internet. Clay Shirky, an NYU new-media professor, made a great point about information overload I think makes complete sense. He claimed that the problem is not information overload, it’s filter failure.

Spam email has become so pervasive that it has become a daily routine for millions of people to scan for them and then delete them when they first open their inbox. As spammers are getting smarter and more clever. There is an innumerable number of deceptive and fraudulent websites all over the Internet. Knowing this, people need to learn the skills needed to be able to filter valuable or interesting information from the crap. Howard Rheingold came up with the term infotention, which he describes the mental ability to deploy the form of attention appropriate for each moment as an essential internal skill for people who want to find, direct, and manage streams of relevant information by using online media knowledgeably.

Tools For Filtering Information

I see how I have begun to naturally develop some of that ability from experience and spending a lot of time online. I still have a lot to learn though. Some of his suggested techniques that I hadn’t used before have already helped me a lot. Suggestions like using Google Reader, pervasive searches, and verifying information at sites like and Even with all the tools out now, it still seems hard at times to truly be able to decipher the good from the junk. One of my solutions is probably a lot like a scuba diver’s solution. You find a place that has a lot to explore, that’s reliable, interesting, and then regularly visit.

Another thing I have learned is that most of what people have to say is not that interesting to me. This has presented a challenge to me when using Twitter. I want to engage in the community there but it gets overwhelming at times. Sometimes, when I find someone who has a lot of interesting things to say, they already have thousands of followers and don’t have time to respond to me or build a “friendship” with me. Of course, I have to look in the mirror. How interesting is the stuff that I’m putting out there? Am I putting out useful information? I guess that really just depends on who is reading or looking at my stuff, useful to some, crap to others.


  1. Your blog post is well defined. I have experience computer shutdown, virus swarming in my operating system, and scam and spam. However, Ive learned a little bit on my own to watch for sources that are not reliable. With this course, crap detection and filtering have helped me get the concept of how they work. I like the methaphor of the fish.

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