Lessons from the “Infowhelm”

The 21st Century Fluence Project

This summer I have heard a lot of very honest voices speaking about their frustration with how much there is to the Internet, to Web 2.0, to technology, to the information explosion, and how we will ever have the time necessary to become “experts” in the rapidly changing information environment we live in.

I struggle with these feelings as well, and I am using it as an opportunity to understand my students and the “infowhelm” they experience. How many times have we seen a student quit right out of the starting gate because s/he feels that they could not possibly live up to expectations, know it all, do it right, or generally be good enough? How many times do they say to themselves, as Gail Blanke noted in her book,* “Since I can’t know it all, it’s not worth knowing anything?” And do we try to counter these students’ attitudes with the advice “just hang in there and I promise you it will make sense one day?”

I regret that feelings of “infowhelm”can color how some feel about the potential for learning through Web 2.0. We can’t “know it all,” so why do we try? Why do we try to be all things to all people? Why do we think that if we are not the perfect masters of “Content,” then we are of no use to others around us? And how preciously do we hold on to things the way we already know them, because we are fearful of delving into a world we can’t possibly know completely?

The world is bigger than any one person individually. It always has been, but the new information environment makes it very transparent that this is so. Is it no wonder that so many “simplicity” movements have been active? If we see our personal responsibility as being the “expert” of all things in whatever field of study, then it is no surprise to me that we will continually feel that we are coming up short.

My school’s theme this year is “Community.” I’m using this theme to try to make myself realize that complete knowledge only comes from drawing all voices together. Each person is a place-holder of expanding wisdom, and there is no need for everyone to “have it all” because we are stronger as a group, especially when we talk to each other. I will put in the time I decide to spend on the Web, in professional development, etc. learning what I can, and letting go of the idea that I can learn it all, or that I need to devote my entire life to learning it all. “Learning it all,” sounds like a pretty lonely place anyway.

Quoting Gail Blanke* again, “Concentrate on what you can do and take energy from the doing of it.”

* Blanke, Gail. “Throw Out Fifty Things.” New York: Springboard Press. 2009.


About Paula Montrie

I am a Middle School Librarian at Friends School of Baltimore. I have been a librarian for 11 years, serving 6 years with the Howard County Public School System before arriving at my current school. I teach two classes: SpeechCraft (a combination of information literacy, public speaking and theater), and Media Literacy at the middle school level. I also collaboratively co-teach with a number of teachers at the school, including Music, Geography, and U.S. History. I love it! My professional interests are: information literacy, multiple intelligences and learning styles, teaching through movement, curriculum-writing, technology integration, and bridging the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants. My personal interests are: dancing, singing, knitting, sewing, art, living history, writing and of course - reading!
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2 Responses to Lessons from the “Infowhelm”

  1. ktenkely says:

    I love the way you ended this post and couldn’t agree more. We need to focus on building a community and realizing that each is gifted and talented in a specific area and when we all come together, we form a beautiful tapestry of understanding and expertise.

  2. Pingback: Infowhelm Articles | Funnymemes

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