“Information overload” — pshaw: that’s old hat

Interesting interview in Inside Higher Ed.


As modern as the problem may seem, information overload wasn’t born in the dorm rooms of Larry Page and Sergey Brin (let alone Mark Zuckerberg). In fact, says Ann M. Blair, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Harvard University, the idea that more textual information exists than could possible be useful or manageable predates not only Project Gutenberg, but the printing press itself. In her new book, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age, Blair cites sources as far back as Seneca — “the abundance of books is distraction” — to show that the notion dates to antiquity.

While the book’s context is broad, Blair’s primary focus is on the information management strategies employed by scholars in early modern Europe, whose enthusiasm for and anxiety about textual overabundance may sound surprisingly familiar all these hundreds of years (and hundreds of millions of Google searches) later. Inside Higher Ed conducted an e-mail interview with Blair to find out more about information management in the Renaissance and today…