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Friday, June 9, 2000

(Sreenath Sreenivasan ( is a professor of journalism at Columbia University in New York and administrator of the Online Journalism Awards. To talk back to Sreenath Sreenivasan, click here.)


I surf four browser windows at a time.

Other authors in this series: Senator Paul Simon; Steven Roberts, ABC commentator; Mike Causey, former Washington Post columnist.

There, I admit it. I use a piece of software called Katiesoft that splits my screen into four browsers and allows me to have different sites open at the same time. That's usually a couple of news sites, a search engine and a site I am editing. Itís all in one window, and I still want more. I am awaiting the six-browser version.

I may thrive on information overload, but most others don't. There is more news and more media "stuff" coming at us from more places than ever before, but that doesn't mean we are better informed. Thanks to 24-hour cable networks and thousands of media sites, even news junkies can get media fatigue. I know of several people who have decided it's better to tune out than try to keep up. But the rest of us bravely soldier on.

Some of my friends and colleagues accuse me of adding to the nformation clutter in their lives. They think I send out too many e-mail messages (100 a day, typically), and receive too many (250 a day, at least). They even invented a name for it: "Sreemail." As in, "I have an automatic delete filter for Sreemail."

They say I use technology too much. I use digital stamps, I send electronic cash and I bid on eBay using my cell phone. Want to make a lunch appointment? I will direct you to my online calendar and have you pick a time. I will read Hamlet on my Palm as I watch a movie version of the play.

For all the talk about too much information, I have seen what a difference access to it makes. I lived through two coups in television-less Fiji in 1987 and relied on sparse foreign reports from short-wave radio to find out what was happening. This time around, the Internet and satellite television are beaming news about the current coup in and out of Fiji at a pace unimaginable before.

It is possible to deal with the media in a way somewhere between my consume-everything approach and the folks demanding less clutter. It means finding a balance between the things you feel you must know - for work reasons or personal interest - and things you should know - because the serendipity of news is important too.

Subscribing to selected e-mail update services is one place to start. If you already get too many, then mass unsubscribing is the better way to begin. Then budget time each day for ways to fill your media diet. A newspaper at breakfast, a weekly magazine at lunch, a little late-night TV news before bed - whatever works for you. Try setting up a budget for your Web surfing the way you do (or should be doing anyway) for your money. Promise yourself no more than three sites on a particular surfing session. If you say three, you might actually stop at seven.

A little thought and patience applied to your media diet can help you fight the overload, unless you are on my Sreemail lists.

So the next time you are in a darkened theater and you notice a brown face near you awash in a handheld computer's glow, it might be me - following along with the book.

Surfing four browser windows at a time
(Aug 2001 update: I used to used to use for this, but it's since died a dot-com death. Try instead.) > stories > commentary on info overload