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7/16/2008
05:25 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Tech Companies Join To Fight Information Overload

The companies that created the information revolution appear to be having second thoughts. Xerox on Tuesday said it has joined with Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, and other tech companies to fight information overload.

The companies that created the information revolution appear to be having second thoughts.

Xerox on Tuesday said it has joined with Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, and other tech companies to fight information overload.The companies "are committed to developing solutions to sort and categorize the flood of electronic information that gushes every day from cell phones, e-mail, instant messages and billions of printed pages worldwide," as Xerox put it.

In case you haven't been paying attention over the past few decades, Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM and Xerox are among the companies responsible for the aforementioned flood of electronic information.

In the tradition of health-conscious tobacco companies and environmentally friendly coal companies, tech vendors are now taking steps to undo the damage done by their products.

Xerox and friends have formed the Information Overload Research Group (IORG) to examine how to make workers overwhelmed with e-mail and other information more productive.

Basex, a research firm, claims that unnecessary interruptions, which account for 28% of the typical knowledge worker's day, cost the U.S. economy $650 billion annually. The remainder of the day, by Basex's yardstick, is content creation (25%), searching (15%), and thoughtful reflection (12%).

Nathan Zeldes, a principal engineer at Intel and co-founder of IORG, has been working on the problem since 1995 and he supports the idea of e-mail abstinence.

"For many years I tried to solve this issue with 'first generation' solutions -- those involving training, indoctrination, tips, and suggestions," Zeldes explained in the first IORG blog post. "It worked well, as far as it can, but there's a limit to what it can achieve; so more recently I'm working on more advanced solutions, like the 'No Email on Friday' pilot that has captured the public's imagination recently."

There you have it. The tech industry's next killer app: the off switch.

As Pogo comic strip creator Walt Kelly put it, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

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