The Downside of Living in a Need-to-Know World

I like keeping up with things, large and small, as much as the next person.

Or maybe I don’t. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

As someone who’s done a lot of journalism, I certainly have an appetite for being first with a story. In fact, most of the journalism I’ve written was stuff that no one else was writing about. But there’s a big difference between looking off the beaten path and trying to land a scoop within a beat that 100 other journalists are covering. I was never much into that. I understand that news organizations value the scoop but I do question how valuable such scoops really are — especially these days, when the first-mover often gets drowned out by the 1,000 who follow.


But lately I’ve been thinking about the information flow from the demand side rather than the supply side. It strikes me that so much of our current communication activity (whether internet- or phone-based, or whatever) is driven by an appetite to dispense and receive information as fast as humanly possible, regardless of how timely it may be. A co-worker texts to say the old boss you both hate has just been fired. Your buddy IM’s you about the latest non-development in the NBA lockout. Your mom calls with an urgent message: remember that old photo album we were all looking for? the one with the ski pictures? I just found it!

Personally, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of any of this breaking news. I don’t want my day, or my life, constantly besieged by what other people think are need-to-know-immediately events that, to me, are barely need-to-know at all. I don’t mean to sound like an unadulterated grouch (although, if the shoe fits …). I just find myself wondering, much as everything looks like a nail when you’re holding a hammer, if maybe every piece of information seems urgent when you’re holding a wonderful little computer in your hand that can broadcast to the world in a matter of moments.


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  1. Nanno says:

    It doesn’t always seem urgent, it just gets there fast.

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  2. tekbek says:

    I remember when dispensing information on a “need-to-know” basis meant that it was restricted to a very few people.

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  3. Colleen says:

    I think this goes back to how you choose to use your tech. There are a lot of people out there lately that say “well, I don’t want to be tied to a smartphone, so I’m not going to get one. ”


    That’s a good thought. Do that. But you can also get one … and only use it when you choose to. I guess I’m a little perplexed, because I got a smartphone (a computer, a tablet, a whatever) for my own use, and not for someone else’s convenience. When I don’t want to deal with calls or texts, I simply don’t carry my phone.

    I’m not trying to laud myself or be snooty about this; I’m simply wondering if it’s time that we realize that we are no longer in an age where information is at a premium. Information – at least for most of us – is no longer a scarcity. So maybe we need to stop treating it with a scarcity mentality.

    When you have more information than you know what to do with, proper filtering and prioritzing is more important than trying to avoid it, I think.

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    • James says:

      “But you can also get one … and only use it when you choose to.”

      Or you can not get one, and save quite a bit of money :-)

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    • Enter your name... says:

      There are limitations to this approach.

      I now carry a cell phone for medical reasons. I can’t just decide not to take it with me: “I don’t feel like reading your text messages today” does not mean “I am guaranteed not to collapse on the sidewalk today”.

      A lot of parents carry a cell phone so that they can be reached if there is an emergency involving their children. Again, there are no promises that the days they don’t want to be bothered by random text messages are the days when none of the kids will take a nasty tumble off their bikes.

      Many managers and small business owners need to be within reach of their staff in case of an emergency. My staff certainly expected to be able to reach me the day our office was broken into a few years ago.

      What has worked for me recently is sticking with a basic, pre-paid cell phone plan, carefully limiting the number of people who have the number, and making sure that all of them know that I get charged for every phone call and text message, so they should try the landlines first.

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  4. David Collins says:

    While I agree that I do not always share your sense of urgency, or even your idea of what is breaking news (“My cat just threw up. LOL”), if I use the technology correctly I can let such “news” slide by me or even turn off such notifications. So, it is not always a problem looking for a solution.

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    • MissinLnk says:

      I will say that, for me at least, the filters still aren’t very good. I’m a geek, but I don’t want to spend countless amounts of time trying to manually create filters to block out the noise. And inevitably I miss something that was actually important to me.

      When people complain about this, they’re really complaining about the filters. And we’re going to have to keep improving them (or come up with a new way to think about filtering information) to get a handle on our new found information abundance.

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      • JimFive says:

        > When people complain about this, they’re really complaining about the filters.

        I disagree. I’m complaining about the people sending the messages. I wouldn’t need to filter them if they hadn’t been sent in the first place. The introduction of “announcement communication” by e.g. twitter, facebook, etc. has exacerbated this problem by allowing those things to be sent to everyone more easily than to just those few that might care.


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  5. Molly C. says:

    The situations you reference all seem less like broadcasts, and more like personal memos. Even though you may not want the information being shared with you, it seems important to realize that the people who are sharing it have made a conscious effort to communicate with you. In my opinion, that effort is something to be valued, even if the information it comes with is not.

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    • Jimfive says:

      > In my opinion, that effort is something to be valued

      If someone took the time to write “Just finished lunch” on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and mailed it to you would you think that effort is something to be valued? Or would you think that the effort was absurd and wasteful? What if they did it 15 times a day?

      Additionally, when it comes to facebook/twitter/etc it wasn’t shared “with you” it was broadcast to everyone without regard for their interests or time.


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  6. Mitch says:

    Too much noise.

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  7. Miguel says:

    Several times in my life I’ve found myself in possession of an apparently urgent piece of news, and had to fight the urge to make a call or send an email. In hindsight, this has always been for the best. Sharing such news sooner would benefit no one, and be just a waste of time.

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  8. Ben says:

    Amen. I just don’t need to be the first to hear about Kim Kardashian’s marriage breaking up. A. I don’t care; and B. I’ll hear about it soon enough and if the news takes 24 hrs to get to me, that’s fine.

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