Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Tools of the Trade // 3TOT3

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Information Anxiety


Michael M. Smith
Former Visual Communications Specialist
Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
Michigan State University-East Lansing

Information Anxiety. Richard Saul Wurman. New York: Doubleday Books, 1989. 356 pp. $19.95 (hardcover).

Play back your answering machine. Fax your reply. Federal Express the plans. Access the database. Read the journals, E-mail, newspapers, books, magazines, and reports. Watch the videotapes. Attend the staff meetings. Read the signs, labels, posters, billboards, and brochures. Go home, turn on the TV, read the mail, listen to the radio. Input tomorrow's notes on your PC. Set your alarm. Read yourself to sleep. Wake up and do it all again - 52 weeks a year! Oh, yes, and don't forget to kiss your spouse, hug your kids, and pat the pet along the way.

This is life in the information age. To be well-informed, one must keep pace. Information is the new currency, the new wealth. It's the means to power. Or so we're encouraged to believe. We're also encouraged to believe that more and faster access to information will make our lives easier, happier, and more meaningful. In doing so, we mistake data for information and information for knowledge.

It's simply impossible to keep pace. There's always another journal we should have read, a database we didn't think to access, or software we couldn't afford. So we feel deprived, guilty, and anxious. We're afraid of not knowing. We're afraid of appearing ignorant, afraid we'll be left out or left behind.

Wurman, graphic designer, architect, professor, and recipient of NEA fellowships and Guggenheim and Chandler awards, tells us how to cope with this information anxiety, in his book of the same title. He helps us understand the distinctions between data and information, and between facts and knowledge. He helps us deal with the frustration resulting from sophisticated communications technologies that overwhelm the individual with more information than anyone could possibly digest. In a step-by-step process, he demonstrates how all of us can assess our personal needs for information and develop appropriate media habits.

The book is a testament to its author's message and vision. It's well-crafted and well-written; simple, but not simplistic. It can be read straight through or taken in random bites. The illustrations, done on Macintosh computers, are excellent examples of a new technology appropriately applied. The book's many quotations and bibliography alone are enough to warrant its purchase.

I strongly encourage everyone in Extension to read this book. It will certainly help relieve your information anxiety and enhance your understanding of communication and communication technology.