The Boston Globe published a fascinating article on the history of information overload last year.
The key takeaway: It’s not new, and neither are the techniques we use to cope with it.
The printing press changed that. First developed around 1453, the new technology invented by Gutenberg had moved beyond the experimental phase by 1480 and spread to some two dozen major urban centers, with many other short-lived presses in operation. Contemporaries at first raved about the great speed with which books could be printed, and also about the drop in price — by 80 percent on one contemporary’s estimate in 1468.
But around 1500, humanist scholars began to bemoan new problems: Printers in search of profit, they complained, rushed to print manuscripts without attention to the quality of the text, and the sheer mass of new books was distracting readers from the focus on the ancient authors most worthy of attention. Printers “fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness,” wrote Erasmus in the early 16th century, in the kind of tirade that might seem familiar to anyone exhausted by what they find online today.
Of the solutions devised, I particularly enjoyed the idea of keeping notes on the stuff you found most useful and interesting. That’s largely how I use this blog. It’s my online, searchable note system.
Discovered through Instapaper.