PMBAProductivity & Effectiveness

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload


Bit Literacy -  Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload 

One Sentence Summary : Many people are as unprepared for the onslaught of information in this new era as illiterates would be in a library, even the younger generation, as familiar as they are with computers, are not so with the massive amounts of information that come their way; this book teaches us to manage it via various diverse methods, tools, tips and software.

By Mark Hurst, 180 pages, 2007.

Note : This week I am testing a new way of publishing: I will post this article in 4 sections, published throughout the week. What do you think? Do you like this better or would you prefer a complete report every time? Let me know through your comments 😉 .

Summary and Book Report :

Mark Hurst begins by telling us that bits (basic unit of every data file) do not have physical weight – you can fit a 25-volume encyclopedia on a single DVD – but the information that it conveys has weight: the amount of information in a 25-volume encyclopedia is the same whether it is on DVD or on paper. Bits weight down the people who receive them, mentally and emotionally, by calling repeatedly on their attention and occupying them.

Bits appear everywhere today, traveling at the speed of light from one end of the planet to the other, and carrying vast amounts of information that is more and more important, more and more diverse, and on a significantly increasing number of peripherals – computers, phones, PDAs, MP3 players, cars and even refrigerators. The number of emails is exploding, new acronyms and new technologies appear every day and millions of people, from students to doctors, from teachers to CEOs, from graphic artists to computer experts, are stunned by the amount of information that they receive every day and which they must deal with.

There is a solution to this worldwide problem: learn to manage this massive amount of information with good methods and tools, using a process similar to how literacy allows us to understand the symbols that form written language. This skill is so important in our computer age where information and communication are pushed at us that those who possess it can overcome the problem of overload, climb to the top of their profession and enjoy a life with less stress, better health, and more time for family and friends,

Knowing how to manage the amount of bit information should not be confused with knowing how to use a computer – clicking on mouse buttons, selecting from menus, opening and closing files: this 80s skill is not enough in the information age.

The world has changed a lot, very quickly, but many people haven’t realized it yet. However, even people whose jobs are far removed from technology generally can barely escape the avalanche of information that threatens to engulf them at every moment.

Most people manage this overload in two ways:

  • By trying to manage all the bits at the same time, with a lifestyle in which they are "always connected." The archetype is the busy business man who you see moving around quickly at airports, with the latest gadget in his hand, in the middle of checking his messages or barking into his cell phone without any consideration for the outside world – the living image of stress and anxiety. The more the Busy Man manages his bits, the more important he feels.
  • By reacting passively to the influx of bits in their life, perhaps even unconsciously, until they have to solve a problem. But passivity is not the answer. As long as the bits are building up, the user feels the situation slowly slipping away, to the point of no return.

Bits are heavy, you either absorb them or ignore them. Their predominance today is due to their unique properties that make them so desirable, they are so little, so fast, easily acquired and created and copied and shared in an almost infinite quantity, protected by the ravages of time, and free from limitations of distance and space. Bits are, however, paradoxical: they don’t weigh anything, but they always seem to weigh us down, they don’t take up any room, but they seem to accumulate all the time, they are created in an instant, but they stay around forever, they move at the speed of light, but they take up all our time.

Avoiding or ignoring these paradoxes will only lead to being buried in the avalanche, fortunately Bit Literacy can teach us how to avoid that. Let’s learn how.



Part 1 : The Context

  • Chapter 2: Users 

The Busy Man and the passive user have something in common: they live in reaction, and don’t take an active role in managing the bits.

Information Technology companies, aware of the problem, promise the earth with hardware and software that will "increase productivity," but people’s long term interests are rarely compatible with the short term interests of companies.

To manage information efficiently, you must adopt a proactive attitude and decide to take it in hand, by choosing to control these bits rather than giving responsibility for them over to these tools. The only ones who will not find this applicable are those who love technology for its own sake – the Busy Man whose gadgets are the outward sign of his success, for example.

  • Chapter 3: The Solution

The solution must come out of these two strategies, and work on any scale. It’s simple:

You must let the bits go.

That doesn’t mean that you must get rid of all of them, or not use bits at all – in our world, anyone who does that, who needs to work with digital technology, is condemned to being ostracized and unproductive – or even to manage fewer bits. That means that you must learn to manage bits in the appropriate manner – by doing the right thing at the right time.

Today it is becoming harder and harder to finish things. We have barely replied to an email when another one arrives, hardly finished a project when we remember that there is another one. We partially listen to music or watch videos that we have just downloaded, because we are too busy downloading more to put in our queue. Bit Literacy gives us the possibility of finishing – not occasionally but regularly – so that we can be more productive and enjoy a full life outside of work.

To be continued… 😉

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9 thoughts on “Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload

  1. I tell you what Olivier, this article could not have come at a better time! I just got a book in the mail today, my sister gave me 2 for Christmas, and I’m in the middle of another one.

    I don’t read like I use to because I’m on the computer too much! Nonetheless, I will read the other series of your article.

    By the way, I read your bio and it reminded me of Jules Verne. I guess I’ll add him to the list 🙂

  2. Hi Olivier,

    I enjoy reading your posts, and am also interested in reading books from the PMBA. Just wanted to say that I personally prefer seeing all of the writing on one topic at one time. This is due to reading it in a feed reader. If the post is spread out, there will be posts from other feeds that are between it, and it seems to make the writing more disjoint. But I will read it anyway. 🙂 Just my two cents. Keep up the nice work.

  3. Sounds like a book I need to read! I’m glad you chose to review it. I have to 2nd what Maria said – I would prefer to see it all in one article because I probably won’t be able to read part 2 before I forget about it (as more and more bits come past demanding my attention).

  4. Hello and thanks for yours comments, I see that there is a consensus for the “one topic” format 😉 .

    But it make me wonder : how do you read my articles habitually ? Do you read them entirely in one time, or little by little ? Are you sometimes a little discouraged by the length of the articles ?

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