We’re Jammin’

Traffic Jam

Image by torstensimon from Pixabay

Or not, perhaps.

I’ve just been reading an old Aircraft Annual from 1962 I picked up for a couple of quid in a charity shop a couple of years ago – I have quite a backlog of such books – and in it was an article about the latest developments in traffic monitoring from the UK’s Automobile Association (today’s AA). They were using light aircraft to fly over various main roads, the approaches to special events and so on to then help patrols and local government organise the traffic and provide warnings of delays.

Since then of course we’ve had, the world over, aerial traffic reports, most famously in US cities where the “eye in the sky” reporter is part of news programmes, often as an aside filming crimes and car chases. There are also police and highways agency cameras monitoring certain stretches of motorways, feeding reports to local and national radio stations, which became even more useful with the advent of RDS (Radio Data System) radios which could not only tell you what you were listening to but automatically re-tune to another station giving traffic reports while you were driving. This was fine if you needed it but annoying if you were part way through a favourite song or perhaps a drama like The Archers and suddenly find yourself redirected… “So what happened to Matt’s cows then, was it aliens? Well, you see.. There’s heavy tailbacks leading onto the A45…”

Now of course we’re streaming our favourite music and the often derided “snooping” of Google and Apple’s servers, beaming back our phones’ GPS and mobile signal based locations to HQ allows their Maps software to determine if the phones are on a road, moving, likely to be in a car and how many of them are within, say, twenty feet of each other. Once it sees a big group of slow moving hardware going the same way it can determine that there’s a bit of a hold up and plots it on the maps it sends back to you as a red line on the road. This seamless collection and analysis of crowdsourced data is another one of the wonders of our connected times.

Who’d have though back in 1962 that fifty years later you could have a small box in your pocket that could tell you where to go, how long it’ll take and if there’s a big queue in your way. I wonder if they could, one day, do the same for supermarkets.

Blogging The Information Tidal Wave

Rubbish Tip

Rubbish Tip – Courtesy Serif Image Collections

That’s how it seems sometimes, the internet, that is.  Well it does to me.  In the earlier days of the net the media and politicians trying to look “with it” called it the Information Superhighway, a term bringing visions of an orderly flow of everything you’d need to know, four lanes of neatly arranged news and entertainment.

The truth today is a torrent of cat pictures, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram pics, blogs, oh and news, all coming at you via the computer, phone, tablet and TV.  It’s a cliché but to paraphrase a famous quote: Never in the field of human endeavour has so much data been available to so many to be consumed in so little time.

It is in the face of this wave that I stand and try to write a blog about modern life and therein lies the problem and the first reason I’ve been getting nervous tremors at the thought of even peeking at this blog editor.  The problem is called Information Overload.

If your blog has a wide remit but you have limited time to write it then information overload can be a major issue, there are so many outlets to find things that would be relevant to what you write about but you don’t have time to both read them and write about them, you feel that you can’t write about the first thing before the next thing turns up.  Another problem with overload is having a subject to write about and either not being able to remember to put in everything you had previously thought would be good in it, or worrying that you’ve forgotten something, before hitting the publish button.  Some people can process, order and retain everything they see and read, many of us can’t.

So what’s to be done.  Firstly you have to simply accept that you’re not going to be able to cover everything you could write about.   Secondly it’s best to find a time that is conducive to writing.  For quite a while I’d not been in the mood to consume any knowledge at all and as such I’d filled the Pocket add-on in Firefox with things to read later so for the last six months I’ve been trying to catch up.  This means that in the evenings I’ve set aside an hour or so to read regular websites but by the time I’d finished doing that my brain had become tired and I couldn’t think of anything sufficiently worth putting in the blog so I thought “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The “tomorrow” in January became October 16th in no time at all.

So for me the solution is write early, when I’m in the mood, read later.

The other thing I’ve been trying to do involves organising the information I have and the ideas that pop up through the day.  I have two notebooks, one is A4 and I write long notes.  The other is A5 and contains one-liners by which I mean titles or brief ideas for blog articles, which can be quickly flicked through for inspiration.  In the small book this article existed as simply “information overload” and related notes also existed tagged with the same wording in Evernote – which is where everything from the big notebook ends up eventually.  I recently read an article on Lifehacker on how it’s a good idea to go through notebooks like mine on a monthly schedule to keep the ideas flowing.

So, how to cope with the overload; let it flow past you, take in what you can, and don’t worry about the things that pass straight past or through your mind.  Fishing boats don’t catch every fish, you can’t see everything on the electronic net either.

I Want To Like This, I Really Do

Reading Linux Format

Reading Linux Format (Photo credit: redjar)

We are reading more online than ever, services like Flipboard can make you a personalised magazine on your tablet, online newspapers have appeared with mixed levels of success and of course there are many blogs out there, out here, wherever.

This has led to some unusual crossovers where people lose the distinction between digital and analogue when they go back to paper – we’ve seen videos of kids trying to swipe or pinch-zoom a picture in a magazine and recently someone told us how he’d tried to swipe the page of a paper book he was reading because he’d got so used to reading on his iPad.

Another thing I’ve found myself is when you’re reading something on a site that doesn’t support comments, you scroll down to see what people are saying about the article but there’s nothing, no login button, no comment box.  “But how can I say how I feel about this, I have an opinion, there’s not even a Like button”, you think before closing the tab and reading something else.   It’s worse when you feel the same way about a magazine article, or TV show – maybe it’s only a matter of time before the appearance of “press the blue button to like this programme”.

The ability to reply to, comment on and interact with the media that was once such a one-way channel giving you their opinion only is becoming ingrained and expected.  Writers online don’t have to wait for comments to appear in the limited forum of the letters page, the feedback is instantaneous and often not polite, depending on the subject, but it gives readers a sense of being part of a discussion, being engaged with the subject and the writers, instead of a being just a passive receiver and for the most part this is a good thing – as commenters add more information, weigh up arguments, correct details, correct grammar.  There are times that the comments are better than the articles.  Many news sites still don’t have comment sections on articles, many say it’s due to the problems of moderating them but with buttons to report misuse (as on Amazon’s forums) the good commenters can weed out the bad.

Of course the downside is that there are always those who just want an argument, we’ll never be free of trolls, but as part of an open and free internet these little havens of discussion should prosper.