It’s been an interesting few days in the UK, but my eyes have been drawn to a news story about US president Obama. It’s positioned as a bombshell, but I’m not so sure why.

“‘You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter,’ Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia,” AFP reports. “‘With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation,’ Obama said.” via macdailynews.comAFP

Now, Obama’s comments were in the context of democracy and learning, but the tech press and bloggers have latched on to his comments:

President Barack Obama was rarely seen without his BlackBerry, he has criticised the current crop of popular consumer gadgets for helping make information a “distraction.” Mashable

And The Huffington Post has run with a poll that currently has a 50/50 split between agreeing/disagreeing that too much information is a distraction. It seems we are divided in our opinion, but the fact is that too much information is a distraction.

In order to get things done, and to be effective in making decisions we need just the right amount of information. Sufficient to make the right choices, but no more than necessary. The human brain becomes overwhelmed by too much data and too much choice. Our perceptual systems are not just sensors, they are censors too, keeping extraneous information at bay, to stop it being a distraction that slows us down, or causes us to drift off task.

It’s a design constraint we are aware off, and something that frequently features in conversations about how Milestone Planner presents information. We’re focussed on getting the right information to the right place at the right time. Keeping conversations threaded around milestones helps with that, because it provides context, which helps us process information more efficiently, but we are also exploring other ways of focussing the interaction and the presentation of the plans and activities.

Information should be free flowing – I don’t think President Obama was saying anything different – but it also needs to be focussed and timing. I know that I have consumed a huge amount of data, in real-time, about the UK election over the last week. The reality is I would have probably been just as well off with the summary, and got a lot more done in the meantime!