Thursday, September 29, 2011

Information Overload and Filter Failure

Sir Francis Bacon's comment regarding reading (from his essay "On Studies") is widely quoted:

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
Jacobs comments,
This is usually taken as a wise or sententious general comment about the worthiness of various texts, but . . . Bacon was making a very practical recommendation to people who were overwhelmed by the availability of books and couldn't imagine how they were going to read them all. Bacon tells such worried folks that they can't read them all, and so should develop strategies of discernment that enable them to make wise decisions about how to invest their time. I think Bacon would have applauded Clay Shirky's comment that we suffer not from 'information overload' but from 'filter failure.' Bacon's famous sentence is really a strategy for filtering.
–Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, 110-11.

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