Information overload, yet too little information

We live in a world that has more information available online than ever before. Granted, much of it is unreliable or useless, but even the small fraction that is valuable is more voluminous than most people could have imagined even a few years ago. But the problem is that a lot of local information that should be available in an information-based society is missing.

Last night, for example, a (presumably) law enforcement helicopter circled a canyon in our neighborhood for 10 or 15 minutes at 2:30 AM. Since I know the police don’t wake neighborhoods unless there’s a reason, surely they were looking for something or someone that needed to be found quickly. My first thought was wondering if there was a criminal on the loose and that we should be extra careful and re-check all the doors and windows. It could also have been that they were looking for a missing hiker or similar. But there was no way to know. And even this morning, there’s no way to know, because none of the local news outlets, nor the city’s website or Twitter feed, have mentioned the helicopter and why it was there.

Now that delivering information is trivially easy using Facebook or Twitter or even an events page that Google can index, it seems crazy not to report events that affect hundreds or thousands of people, like a helicopter searching and waking a neighborhood in the process. Whatever agency was doing the search could have tweeted or posted, and by morning, Google would have indexed it, so any searches for helicopter in my area within the last 24 hours would have produced the information. If the police are hunting a suspect and don’t want to give away clues, then I can understand deliberate delays in providing information, but it should be put out hours after the fact.

My point is that we need more information of a local nature on the Internet. Cities, counties, and agencies should be keeping their citizens up to date better. Once this flood of information is unleashed, we will need new smart agents to process it and summarize it for us This has already happened with traffic apps (just presenting the traffic that is relevant to us out of all the traffic data available), so there is precedence, and maybe even a market for smart personal assistant apps that aren’t as useless as the current crop (Siri, Cortana, Alexa, etc.).

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