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Human Bandwidth | Rodent Regatta

Human Bandwidth

27 June 2003

I'm trying to think, but it's just not workingOne of the tenets leading to the build-out of the telecom industry’s fiber optic networks was that we wanted massive amounts of information available to us instantly. Whether it was instant entertainment via downloadable movies or the Library of Congress on line, we wanted everything – now!

Then, the bubble burst. Irrational exuberance gave way to collapsing shells of companies with no real products, services or revenue. As those fell away, the many telecom competitors took a hit as well.

During this period many of us added higher bandwidth to our Internet experience at work and at home.

We have cable modems, DSL lines and cheap T-1 service. Yet, the Internet experience is what it is and has remained that way for the past five or six years. Why?

One of the reasons, but only one, has to be human bandwidth. A person can only absorb so much from newspapers, movies, TV shows, weblogs, newsletters, mail, email, magazines and RSS feeds. Whether you are a thirteen year old prodigy working on three simultaneous Ph.D.’s or a 49-year old striving to ”keep up,” there is something finite about our capacity.

Little is being done to address that limitation. What can be done? A recent movie line said, ”If I take my gingko, I can usually remember where I put my Viagra.” Seriously, what can be done to raise our human capacities for information from dial-up to DSL to cable modem and beyond? How can I take in more data, process it, organize it, turn it into information and ultimately gain knowledge from it?

With most folks needing between 5 and 8 hours of sleep per day and allowing for at least 2 to 3 hours of time for food, hygiene and another 2 or 3 hours for family, the time for moving, processing and storing information drops to around 10 to 15 hours a day, best case. Unless someone is getting paid only to read, some portion of that time must be spent in gainful employment. Now you are truly up against one of the constraints of human bandwidth.

Someone once told me that the best speed-reading course ever invented involved deciding what NOT to read. Expanded to cover the whole range of human activities, deciding what NOT to do may yield the highest-value enhancements to our personal bandwidths. What can you eliminate from your routine?

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