Pathology of Information Explosion LO30222

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 05/30/03

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you fellow learners.

I think that we all know of the information explosion -- information gets
doubled approximately every four years. This information usually got
published on paper, but is now also increasingly available on internet.
Add to this the less permanent information available on TV and radio to
imagine just how shocking the explosion is. To get the information which
one wants, often requires the assistance of specialised personnel and

So much can be done with all the information on so many topics available.
Yet the past couple of months i came increasingly under the impression
that the information explosion has not only a bright side, but also a dark
side to it. It can cause bodily and mental harm, i.e., it has a pathology.
This pathology reveals itself more clearer year after year as the
information overload increases year after year.

Perhaps the first person to identify a syndrome in this pathology, was the
psychologist David Lewis. Dr Lewis wrote a foreword to te research study
"Dying for Information" (1996) commisioned by Reuters. He called this
syndrome IFS -- Information Fatigue Syndrome. People become mentally
tired, staring at something for many minutes without doing anything and
not aware of it. Then, suddenly, they may begin to react by making
"foolish decisions and flawed conclusions."

In terms of LEP (Law of Entropy Production), this fatigue is nothing else
than a low level of mental "free energy" F. What happens is that the load
of information (itself a source of entropy according to Shannon) erodes
the ruggedness of the mind's entropy landscape (fitness landscape --
Kauffman) away. It becomes flatter and likewise its complementary free
energy landscape -- the reason for the fatigue. The sudden reaction is
then trying to escape from this flat landscape by using any close by
entropy producing force-flux pair such as making a decision or a
conclusion. It is almost like someone drowning in a river grabbing any
driftwood close by -- it may be rather a snake.

A second syndrome is called the Dorito syndrome. It formulation seems
to have originated as a computer joke:
   The feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction triggered by addictive
   substances that lack nutritional content. "I just spent six hours
   surfing the Web, and now I've got a bad case of Dorito Syndrome."
But i think it is more than a joke now. It is like wandering around on a
massive sand dune staring at thousands of tiny waves caused by the wind
without seeing the sand dune itself. It is also like the very old saying
"staring at the trees without seeing the forest". The packets of
information have become too much to be interconnected anymore.

I gave the sand dune example above to describe how the entropy landscape
appears in this case. The wind (entropic force) in this case is the desire
to go through a massive amount of information in a too short time trying
to make sense out of it. Information exists outside a person while
knowledge dwells inside a person. This information has to be digested with
with the appropiate kernels of knowledge. This digestion happens slowly
since it happens close to equilibrium. Stirring up the information into
chaos will not speed up the digestion.

I have worked through about ten pages of hits by the search engine Google
trying to find other syndromes or disorders. But if i do not stop now, i
might develop a syndrome self :-) So i invite you fellow learners to do
some searching yourself. It is interesting that when the negative effects
of the information explosion is considered, it usually called the
"information overload". Using the topic "information science" as the main
stem of my search did not give much useful hits. It seems as if PIE
(Pathology of the Information Explosion) is not yet a discipline of
information science.

I think that learning organisations (LOs) will have to develop a strategy to
avoid this PIE (Pathology of the Information Explosion). I want to suggest
the following, but would welcome much more a LO-dialogue on it.
 1) Make a catalogue of all the syndromes or disorders in the PIE.
 2) Get as clear as possible description of the symptoms of each syndrome
    or disorder.
 3) Try to understand how each syndrome or disorder develop (its
 4) Hold regular workshops where people are taught
 4.1) The relationships between knowledge and information
 4.2) How to gain in knowledge by individual and organisational learning
 4.3) How to search for information, how to avoid data smog (filter out
       inappropiate data).
 4.4) How some information sources are deliberately skewed to catch the
       most attention.
 5) Make deliberately use of information technology which has been
    designed to avoid an overload of information.
 6) Make use of data bases which operate functionally. For example, set up
    a data base in which every technical term used in the organisation is
    described clearly.
 7) Make an online-site available for members where they can browse
    through data bases on internet, but restrict access to a maximum of say
    two hours

The following files have many useful ideas on the strategy
< >
< >
< >

By the way, while searching internet for PIE syndromes, i came upon the
following thoughtful article concerning information among other things:
< >

Let us have a dialogue on PIE rather than getting into despair.

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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