Frankly, I have problems coping with the constant information overload. I’m pretty sure that most of us have the same problem. Not only in 2009; this has been a primal, human problem. I’m convinced that this feeling of being overloaded, swamped, barely making it is the real engine behind human progress. But only if we approach this challenge in a constructive way.

Since human beings started to communicate, the speed and enormity of societal changes have caused people to bitch and moan. The oldest known example is Plato in his “Pheadros”-Dialogue. He’s complaining about the invention of letters, claiming they will eliminate the necessity to memorize things. And this was 2,400 years ago.

At the core of this discussion is cultural pessimism: Old men decked out in Snuggies sitting in front of a fireplace, agreeing that things used to be better. Well, not everything is bad now, at least I can enjoy my HD but all this busy stuff and social garbage is just a waste of time.

This common rejection of cultural changes is understandable. Highly educated people believed for the longest time that we are able to control society around us. Besides some natural disasters, we have pretty much tamed nature and conquered its forces. However, we fight a constant battle against an institution we created centuries ago: Civilization. We still have a spear in our hand to fight dragons. It’s just a Dragons 99.0 fight against spears 101.0.

In 2009, we feel that our spear is not the right weapon against the dragon anymore. I would argue, the belief of being able to control your social environment was always an illusion. Propped up by executives, politicians and corporations. And the loss of control is felt more dramatically in C-level suites because their power has diminished dramatically.

One hint that control was always an illusion is the silly image that world knowledge is increasing at an unprecedented pace. There are stories that the world’s knowledge captured in books could reach the moon. Nice image, but we always had too much information to cope with. The library of Alexandria, the original Google, consisted of 500,000 papyrus scrolls. If you assume a length of 20 feet per scroll, the length of all scrolls would total 1,900 miles. Assuming a reading speed of 1 feet of scroll per 2 minutes and reading time of 12 hours daily, it would take one person around 75 years to read everything.

Sure, the mountain of information has dramatically increased since Alexandria – its insurmountability was always a fact. That’s why we invented filter mechanisms. Until the end of the 20th century, this function was performed by the editors of mass media: A hierarchical structure making decisions in a non-transparent way to determine what the public should be interested in. Basically, editors decided how we should experience reality. A very powerful position, indeed. The editorial department as the gatekeeper has been challenged in the 21st century. Most people will say it’s a technological challenge. I would argue it’s a social challenge.

Different rules apply to the virtual space of the digital realm. A few moments ago, editors decided what should be important us. Now, the web services play to the wisdom of crowds and let people decide what they are really interested in. The editorial edict of relevance is being supplemented  by the crowdsourced edict of “Do I find this interesting?” A new filter is challenging the power base of editorial departments. By utilizing the ancient tool of recommendations, the crowd decides what should be spread and what is not interesting enough to share. All Social Networks are based on the concept of “Look, I found/created something interesting.”

This doesn’t mean editorial departments will disappear. Professional journalism is more important than ever, even though all publishing companies face the monetization challenge. It’s just a fact that journalists aren’t the only game in town anymore, their competition is anybody with a camera and/or laptop.

The editorial department faces off against the crowd, not a machine. It’s a misconception to believe that Google’s algorithm decides what we should experience and read. Google understood from the beginning that algorithms alone won’t determine relevancy. Each and every individual has to make that determination – good technology helps us with that task. Google dominates the digital world because they were always the best in mimicking the way the human mind works. The holy grail of relevance is linking sites through human action. Google even fights a brave fight against automated machine relevance. Whole divisions are trying to ensure that human relevancy (defined by links created by humans) always trumps machine relevancy.

The Internet has conquered the consciousness of the young generation. And in different ways than we ever imagined when we started our digital journey. I would argue that the consequences of the digital revolution are much more severe and revolutionary, as if Print, Telephone and TV were invented at the same time. I’ve heard teenagers ask their parents how human beings joined the Internet. Can you better describe the intimate relationship young adults have to the digital reality? The virtual world can’t be separated from our carbon existence. This is so profound that people change the way they live, work and love. Yes, even love can be rooted in digital. Ask the millions of people who fell in love and grieved for Princess Diana (without ever meeting her) if they were deeply affected by an almost virtual person.

The predictable stories about the demise of our culture and consequences for our society completely dismisses the rise of written information, caused by the advent of digital and social technologies. Sure, some of them are grammatically challenged and need solid spell checks. But, think back 20 years: How many students wrote anything outside of their school and homework? Maybe a diary page. Nothing more. Compare this to the flood of written content just from the Millenials alone. A step in the right direction.

What remains is the nagging feeling that the machine is starting to control us. So, let’s step down from a throne of arrogance and level with the older generation. Fact is, the digital world is still too complicated and complex. The younger generation might not feel that way because their socialization process occurred during the advent of digital technologies. Technological progress is only a positive force for society when the majority feels positive about it. And this is mostly a question of coping with overload. The older people are the more pronounced is their fear not to be relevant anymore. We need to deal with this through support systems and the power of empathy.

This overload and fear of not being relevant anymore plays out each and every day in offices, cubicles and homes throughout the world. Staring at the screen, anxiety sets in and the fear that the digital life might pass you by. We need to explain to non-native digital nomads why we put weird images on our Social Network pages while we expect that our future employers don’t sniff around our private networks to find incriminating content. Would a respectable corporation ever sift through the garbage of a prospective employee even though the garbage container is easily accessible for anyone? We should explain that multi-tasking is just a symptom of the scattering media landscape – the generation before us left the TV for hours while reading books and newspapers. Let’s explain to them the difference of publishing your own data and institutional regulations as the difference between being ‘locking myself in the bathroom’ and ‘being locked in the bathroom’. It’s about freedom of choice, we control our own data.

Let’s invite them to participate in the digital lifestyle. What an amazing opportunity: It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, ugly or beautiful, if you want to talk about Canadian glaciers or Serbian poetry of the 17th century. Showcase the steep advances or society made with the digital revolution – how lonely was a 16-year old gay person living in a rural village 20 years ago? What an amazing change and opportunity to be able to connect with like-minded people, escaping the frightening thought to be different.

Businesses need to implement systems to play to the strengths of the young and the weaknesses of the old. Just adding another technology layer to the mix will increase the divide. Instead, we need to implement systems that enhance the real-time experience of digital natives and help filter out the noise for the older generation to connect with signals.

And, as always, we still need to pay a price for all these positive developments: Media elites are not that elite anymore. Transparency and speed crushed their belief in being able to control the environment. Their greatest problem with the young generation is that they don’t belong to it anymore.