June 20, 2008

Information Addicts and Enterprise Architecture

As an enterprise architect, my job is to develop plans and governance for IT to meet mission/user requirements, which is typically for more and more information. But is more information the answer?

The Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2008, reports on a new book called Distracted by Maggie Johnson, that talks about instant communication robbing “the workday of any sustained interval of unbroken attention to a particular task…from email to instant messaging to Twitter—an-update service devoted to what-are-you-doing-at-this-moment inanity--the interval between interruptions appears to approaching zero.”

“In the workplace, a distracted knowledge worker is a fallow asset.” Ms. Jackson reports that:

  • “Workers ‘typically change tasks every three minutes’ and ‘take about twenty-five minutes to return to an interrupted task…usually plugging into two other work projects in the interim.’
  • By one estimate, ‘interruptions take up to 2.1 hours of an average worker’s day and cost the economy $588 billion a year.’

“Many distractions turn out to be self-initiated: It appears that we just can’t wait to read the next email or blog entry or check to see what might be happening in an online discussion.”

We are addicted to information. On one hand, we want more and more information and complain bitterly whenever we are out of our carrier’s coverage or otherwise not able to use our cell phones, email, or internet connections. And on the other hand, we are so overloaded with information and so distracted all the time, we are walking around with our heads spinning, not knowing what to focus on next. We are true information junkies!

The information overload and incessant disruptions and distractions are not limited to the workplace. No, indeed.

I don’t know about you, but time for me is an endless deluge of everything information, driven by technology (especially email, blogging, professional networking, internet news and search, and so on).

Yet, while we absorb and spit out more and more information, our quality of life seems in many ways worse and worse. The things that are really important like spirituality, family, friends, charitable giving, and health/fitness is eroded by our incessant need for the next information fix.

We run away to getaway resorts, bed-and-breakfasts, and day trips, only to take our Blackberries or worse yet our laptops. We check our email compulsively. We check our networking sites to see where our friends are and what they are doing. We check for the latest information on this, that, and the other thing. We are checking ourselves into a dizzying numbness, where we are losing touch with real people in the real world in lieu of information ubiquity and life in a virtual world. We are losing important pieces of ourselves in our addiction to information.

So what’s an enterprise architect to do?

  • Baseline—awareness is step #1. We need to recognize that we are creating an information addicted society for ourselves and our children. Information ubiquity, if not our current state, is certainly where we are well on the way to. In fact, I’ve seen many organization’s IT strategic plans that specifically state their vision as information 24x7x365 or anytime, anywhere.
  • Target—planning for a better tomorrow. We need to take control and set a target state that balances the “highs” that we get from more and more information, with the need to be better people—better to ourselves and to others, more inclined towards our spiritual needs, physical health, and more in touch with the real world versus the virtual.
  • Transition Plan—getting from here to there. We need to wean ourselves off the constant information fix. It’s easy to get addicted. I had many a caffeine headache until I got myself some decaf beverages. Similarly, smokers often must substitute a nicotine patch for a cigarette. We need to plan time for spirituality, family, friends, and other activities that wean us off the information addiction we have.


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