Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Information detours

Recently, I did an online transaction. It started out superficially simple: to buy rail tickets from London to Salford. But then I had to check on a map of Salford to find out which station was appropriate. And the train operator wanted to know my loyalty card number, so I had to go and get that from my purse. Then my credit card supplier wanted me to add in additional security information, which of course I don't remember, so I had work to reconstruct what it might be. A superficially simple task had turned into a complicated one with lots of subtasks that comprise "invisible work".

It's a repeating pattern: that information tasks that are, at first sight, simple turn out to involve lots of detours like this, and sometimes the detours are longer than the original task.

Occasionally the detours are predictable; for example, I know that to complete my tax return I'm going to have to dig out a year's worth of records of income and expenditure that are filed in different places (some physical, some digital). There aren't actually a large number of relevant records, but I still dread this data collation task, which is why the relatively simple task of completing the form always gets put off until the last minute.

It's both hard to keep track of where one is amongst all these information detours and hard to keep focused on the main task through all the detours and distractions of our rich information environments. I'd like a supply of digital place-keeping widgets to help with progress-tracking amongst the clutter. If they could also link seamlessly to physical information resources, that would be even better...

1 comment:

  1. The time lost to fiddly peripheral tasks must be quite a drain on productivity, not to mention one's good humour ;)

    While trying to work on a powerpoint presentation this morning the software kept telling me that I needed to 'activate' it - this meant that instead of working on the presentation I had to email our systems people to find out what the problem might be.

    By the time I've finished these things I've forgotten what it was that I was trying to do in the first place so yes, bring on the seamlessly integrated digital place-keeping widgets.