Posted by: nickgerlich | November 19, 2007

Infomaniac

Our 10-year-old daughter likes to ask us, “What was it like in the old days?”

Yeah, as if we’re old or something. But it’s all relative to her, so we seize the opportunity to spin yet another yarn about life in the halcyon days of our youth, our salad days. You know, back when things were simpler, the earth had just cooled, and dinosaurs roamed the midwest.

The next time she asks this recurring question, I’m going to tell her about information, and how we simply did not have very much of it. We had the Yellow Pages. We had our good friend the Encyclopedia Britannica. We had our memories. And we had each other.

Ah, yes, a phone book, a book for each letter of the alphabet, and a bunch of people. The collective knowledge of mankind all crammed into a thimble.

BlackberryBut things are different now. We Google as if we were all professional data miners. We scan the web as if having the entire world a mouseclick away were really nothing to marvel about. And now with a slew of mobile devices, we can do it just about anywhere we can find a signal.

Which brings me to my thesis: I wonder if maybe we have too much information at our disposal? My wife-the-maximizer has always been one to gather as much information as possible before making a choice, but now that she has the whole world available to her, she gets stuck in the gridlock of information overload. Digital traffic jam. Mouse to mouse.

The basic consumer behavior models that were developed during the infancy of this field (back in the 1960s) posited that the second stage of our behavior (following identification of a consumer problem) is to gather information. Oh, that gathering information today were as simple as it was 40 years ago. Sure, it’s much easier today, but there’s just so much of it. How in the world can you ever reach the point of making a decision when there’s always a little more information to be found?

It’s all a little bit crazy. While the convenience factor is arguably very high with mobile devices and ubiquitous broadband, sometimes I wonder if we’re really helping ourselves by having so much information, or trying to scale the slippery slope of Mt. Digitas. I once bragged that I could teach my online courses from a moving vehicle (my wife driving, of course), but now I’m not so sure this is something to tout.

Google is expected to bid on wireless spectrum in January 2008, confirming what we’ve heard rumored for a long time of their interest in establishing their own nationwide network. I can see a day coming in which we will all live out the fiction of Minority Report, and have a search engine just a blink away.

Don’t get me wrong…I love change, and I live for it. But sometimes old Dr. Gerlich-the-Satisficer is happier with having only limited information and just a few choices. At least I’ll be able to make a decision this year. And that’s something I went to tell my daughter about.

Dr “Less Is More” Gerlich

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