In the lexicon of contemporary American English slang, TMI is a commonly-used abbreviation for “too much information.” On digital media and in conversation, the millennial generation uses TMI to describe details about a person that are way beyond anyone’s need to know—or even a wish to know. In earlier generations, such details were, I seem to recall, termed personal secrets.
It is no secret, however, thousands of manufacturing managers—and millions of other people—sense that, in both their professional and personal lives, they are the objects, perhaps even the unwitting victims of, too much information.
We live in an information age of HD television and radio, of pads and tablets and laptops, of smart phones and wireless connections and social media. We live in a time of online and e-mail, of Webinars, secure video conferences from undisclosed locations, and e-books and e-magazines.
Every minute of every hour of every day, we are the objects of awesome data dumps and dramatic information infusions as we, as human beings, see, hear, taste, smell, and feel.
What about all the information that’s continuously coming our way through one or more of our senses? How much is too much? How much overwhelms rather than informs? How much information, like an unwelcome winter blizzard, buries us, if only for a relatively short time?
To these serious questions, there is no single, serious answer or facile formula. Rather, I would suggest each of us bears a burden to make often difficult choices for ourselves—and accept responsibility for those choices and their consequences. What information I may consider important is not necessarily what you consider important. What deeply interests me may interest you only somewhat or not at all.
When people complain too much information is coming at them, I can empathize, because I, too, have had such information-crowded days. During my reporting days at IndustryWeek, reading books and journals, and attending conferences and seminars, in addition to conducting interviews, were all essential elements of the job. Likewise, in retirement I sometimes struggle to stay current in 19th- Century American cultural history, a particular field that continues to fascinate me.
Yet periodically I get concerned that in our attempts to cope with a staggering load of information that we do not sufficiently differentiate volume and value. In the context of thousands of ideas circulating in manufacturing worldwide these days, for example, which insights gleaned from an IW Webinar might have the greatest potential for payoff in a senior executive’s company? How does the parent of a child with a rare disease or special needs sort out what she or he needs to know and which sources to trust? How does a person, personally and professionally, resolve conflicts between data and ethics or faith?
The answers, I suggest, lie in the process of continuously making judgments about the value of information, judgments, ironically, that are in part enhanced by additional information.
This is another of a series of occasional essays by John S. McClenahen, an award-winning writer and photographer who retired from IndustryWeek in 2006.