I meant to post this last week, so apologies if it is not totally relevant to this week’s readings.
I find Luker’s characterization of the 21st century as an age of “info-glut” or “information overload” somewhat problematic. While information overload is certainly a fact of life in this day and age, I really don’t think it’s as new as she presumes – and her characterization of the past (in her case, only 30-40 years ago) as characterized by a paucity of information was even more confusing to me. Certainly, we do life in an age where information is everywhere, and the volume of information readily available to us through the internet is certainly unprecedented – but in spite of that, the feeling of information overload is very, very old. Older than the internet, older than daily newspapers and mass-market paperbacks, older even than the printing press (I am not joking).
I read (and actually reviewed, though I have yet to submit my review to any journals because I am super lazy) a book last year titled Too Much to Know, by historian Ann M. Blair. In it she deals with the perception of information overload, and the methods that people developed to deal with it, in the pre-modern world. Her main focus is on Renaissance Europe but she also deals a little bit with the medieval and ancient worlds as well. Many of the methods she discusses for dealing with information overload in these periods – reference books, classification schemes, etc. – are in fact the direct antecedents of the methods that information professionals use today. If you’re interested but don’t feel like reading 300-some pages about seventeenth-century reference books, she also published a short article in the Intellectual History Review titled “Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700.”
I am still, unfortunately, a long way away from developing a research question of my own, but I think that I would like to work on something related to what Blair has done, except possibly with a focus on the eighteenth century, and with a focus on laypeople as well as (or possibly instead of?) scholars.