Experiencing Information Overload?

January 10, 2011

Have we reached the point of total saturation? Where our search for information leaves us not wiser but more confused, lost and unsatisfied? Not long ago, I remember when the internet first made its presence in my life, before the era of Yahoo, Bing, and Google. Where any attempt to search for information would lead you down so many dark pathways that you would eventually give up and head back to the library. Yes, we have come a long way, baby… but have we come too far?

And no, I am not going to comment about online content that is not fit for human consumption, or at least not the humans I like to hang around with. I am all for “Freedom of Speech” as protected by our mighty constitution but sick is sick and that is that!

I am, however, talking about the fact that we may be reaching the point where the sheer weight of  information, with much of it conflicting, might just outweigh any benefit. And like its twin, sensory-overload, it may lead to a complete system shutdown.

Example # 1: Online medical sites  ask you for your symptoms and Viola, they give you a long list of possible diagnoses. The only problem is that the results can run anywhere from a common cold to advanced terminal lung cancer. Want to really start to worry? Make a visit to one of these sites next time you have the sniffles.

Example # 2: Ever tried to find a simple recipe online? Your search leads you to so many variations of what it is you wish to cook that you may end up stymied and order pizza instead.

Example # 3: Real Estate, my specialty. I am currently working with a lovely international couple  buying their first home in the US. Being engineers, they began searching for information months ago. Every online inquiry took them in another direction until they did not know where to go next. They had discovered so much data that it no longer made sense. That is, until they found me. And yes, they found me online – a subtle irony to this post that is not lost on its author.

It took us hours to wade through their spreadsheets and pages of questions and concerns. Afterward, we then did something you cannot do with a click of a mouse … we left the information highway and went off-road (offline) by visiting the communities, the builders and the homes themselves. Nothing really beats being there and having an expert along for the ride.

As a Realtor and a fairly tech savvy one at that, I know online resources have undoubtably helped the real estate process. With great sites like www.HAR.com, www.Realtor.com or www.ChristiBorden.com (sorry, couldn’t help myself), today’s consumer can discover an amazing amount of data about almost everything you would want to know about a home, a community, a developer, a builder, etc. In fact, they are an invaluable tool for me as well.

But is the information itself enough? Does that mean that I am no longer needed in the process? The experienced Realtor brings specific knowledge that cannot be found by Google, negotiation skills that are not offered by Yahoo!, and a level of expertise (needed to shepherd a transaction from contract to close) that is not found with Bing.

How do we handle information overload? I think adding the human factor will always the answer.