Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 06/86 - scanned

FIT TO BURST WITH EXCESS INFORMATION

How much information comes through your letter-box each week? There are computer papers, magazines, local papers, newspapers, your ordinary mail.

Now add all the phone calls, memos, conversations with staff, internal reports and electronic mail, visitors, television, the car radio, the spouse.

What do you do with all this information? Do you conscientiously try to handle it all? Do you accept that you can't possibly keep up, so you give up? Have you got a built-in algorithm that helps you filter the important from the relevant? Dare you allow someone else, who knows your interest profile, filter it for you?

That would mean you could never stumble across an interesting new development, unless you define in absolute detail all the things you're interested in and all those you're not. Then anything else should come up for scrutiny.

I have been watching an information tide gradually engulf me. I particularly dread Thursdays when I receive five computer magazines.

Another dozen or so appear during the course of the month and that's without the daily papers or conventional mail. Last week my daughter offered to copy my rather untidy address book into a new one she'd bought. I accepted her kind offer but first decided to clean out the unwanted names and telephone numbers.

I've only had the book for a couple of years but, by the time I'd finished the Bs, I'd already thrown out 31 of the 65 entries. It's not that I fall out with people or that I'm particularly careless who I put in. It's simply that addresses and telephone numbers change.

I also keep similar records on the computer, although I'm really not sure why. The difference is that, because they are stored invisibly, names and addresses keep getting added but never removed. Gradually my computer system is being polluted with redundant information. The address book is just the thin end of the wedge.

Without diligence, which I generally lack, I am in danger of filling my hard disk with all sorts of garbage.

I believe that without action by users and software writers, the world is about to acquire a collection of information mountains, every bit as useless as those of beef and butter in the EEC.

I am indebted to Ross Burgess and Jo Bate for pointing out that 80 percent of this is never used again, the problem being that no-one knows which 80 percent. And that's based on paper systems which take up space and scream for attention each time the rent goes up. Photocopiers have a lot to answer for, but now computers offer ways of generating even more information without the visible penalties associated with filing cabinets.

A few megabytes here, a few more there. Who cares? We should all care because the more information there is, the harder it's going to be for us to get at exactly what we want. In the last six months, I have accumulated half a megabyte of odd jottings. You know the sort of thing - "write 'Reflections' about information mountains, EEC, diary etc". Each entry averages around 30 characters. That's nearly 17,000 reminders in six months.

Crazy isn't it? Each file of reminders is easy to roam around but what I really need is the ability to rummage through all the files at the same time. I really ought to be able to purge the information selectively and gather related information together.

All these things take a lot of time. And, anyway, why should I do all the work? Given the right training, the computer ought to be able to do most of it for me. This is where I think the software industry should be looking for the next wave of applications. Programs to handle the information foothills before they turn into unmanageable, inaccessible, useless, mountains.