COLUMN: An overabundance of information

My current stack of reading material is much longer than many significant, influential writings.

Some of the most significant, most influential writings of all time have been surprisingly short.

The Magna Carta, signed in 1215, is less than 3,000 words or the equivalent of 12 typewritten pages in length.

Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, posted in 1517, is less than 2,700 words long, translated into English. That works out to 10 pages, typed and double-spaced.

An English version of Karl Marx’s 1848 work, The Communist Manifesto, is 68 pages, including an introduction, seven prefaces, some related letters and two pages of endnotes.

The Ten Commandments in the Bible take up less than one typewritten page.

My current stack of reading material is much longer than all those works put together.

For example, the most recent Summerland municipal council agenda package, for the July 12 meeting, is a 388–page document.

It’s the longest agenda package I can recall during my time covering Summerland council meetings, but some other recent packages have come close. The May 9 meeting had 368 pages of information and the July 27, 2015 meeting came with 343 pages.

Agenda packages seldom run less than 100 pages in length, and council members have just a few days from when the package is posted until council meets.

The reading load for our mayor and council can seem overwhelming, but it’s not much different for the rest of us.

In the last few decades, we have witnessed an information explosion. We have more information available to us than ever before, and it’s impossible to keep up with it all.

The average adult reads 300 words a minute for non-technical information. That’s roughly one page, typed and double-spaced.

For technical information, the average reading speed drops to between 50 and 75 words a minute. It also slows down for those doing editing and proofreading work.

It’s possible to increase reading speed by skimming or using speed reading techniques. While this may be useful for a quick overview, comprehension may suffer. One can scan keywords, yet miss the writer’s main points.

In addition to time spent reading, there’s also the time required to consider what has been written, why the reader agrees or disagrees and how to respond.

When is there enough time to properly deal with this deluge of information?

Short-form social media posts, such as Facebook and Twitter, are great at presenting a quick overview. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters allows for one or two sentences. It’s possible to post a summary with a link to a detailed article.

But even with the short, crisp nature of Twitter posts, information overload remains a problem.

According to Twitter, more than 500 million new Tweets are posted each day. That’s more than 5,700 new Tweets each second.

As a reader, I have to choose what to read, especially when it comes to materials not related to my work.

And as a writer, I need to consider my readers’ time and give them something worth reading.

This is true if I’m writing articles for the Summerland Review. It’s just as true if I’m writing a fiction story, a script or another piece of creative writing.

Our overabundance of information means there is never enough time to read everything that comes our way.

You have a lot of choices in what you read. Thank you for choosing to read my words.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.