Have you ever felt overwhelmed by information? Then you’d appreciate this quote:

“...the [Gulf] oil spill is truly a metaphor for our Information Age: a time when raw and live data gushes over us without any filter, but instead of informing and guiding action, it simply pollutes the infosphere and leaves us transfixed and dazed”.

My friend and social innovator, Kavitha Kannan, emailed me this quote recently.  She found it on Personal Democracy TechPresident blog @ The Oil Spill as Metaphor for Our Times .

Let’s not focus on the obvious fact that the Internet has given us access to information and knowledge in remarkable and once unimaginable quantities.  It’s true, but what’s seems particularly concerning is that it’s all happening while our ability to act remains unchanged.  You’re intimately aware of how catastrophic the oil spill crisis is but what are you doing about it?  Probably nothing.  You care, but you don’t act.  It’s ok.  You’re not alone.  Acting requires a lot of effort usually with little perceived impact. The key is that you’re not any better equipped to take action than you were 10 years ago.  Where’s the progress?  Change requires action so as a country (and world) we have a mandate to make taking action easier.

The largest pool of untapped resources in the world today is humans’ good intentions that don’t translate into action.  Think about those moments, possible this morning when you read the newspaper.  Some issue (oil spill, joblessness, global warming, crime, corruption, etc) might have gotten you a little upset but you had absolutely no clue what you could to do about it besides donate some money.  In fact, you’re probably so used to that feeling of anger + futility that you barely even notice how it affects you anymore.  You dismiss it and move on with your busy life.  Can’t we do better? 

Yes, we can.  In fact, action is the next big thing to get changed by the Internet.  We’re slowly going to enter another phase of the information revolution, the age of ‘intelligent and organized action’.

How’s it going to happen?  Well, I don’t know but here’s my guess (and please leave your suggestions below to foster valuable conversation around this emergent topic).  We need to come up with much more enlightened ways (tools) to organize information to help people find the best actions for them.  After reading an article in the newspaper, you should be able to click on an action button that gives you a customized list of the best actions you can do to help.  An ever-expanding database of actions should exist as well as complex algorithms churning away in data warehouses to figure out which are the best actions for you based on where you live, the skills you have and the issues you care about.

It’s not just about volunteerism and charity: making the world a better place, but also about helping you live a more meaningful and purposeful life.  If you’re feeling depressed one day, there should be a website that suggests actions that will make your life more meaningful and purposeful (instead of going shopping or drinking).  My company is working on these possibilities, but to get the world back on a sustainable track, we need everyone working on it… starting with the two big Gs: Google and Government.

It’s not just about the Internet, but even more importantly it’s about our institutions.  Real change only occurs when people, and the institutions we collectively form, restructure to make better use of new technology (i.e. make decisions in new ways, execute in new ways).  Our institutions need to reorganize themselves to tap into this new resource: most non-profit organizations spend 99% of their mindshare thinking about how to raise money but very little time thinking about how to mobilize people to take impactful action. Governments are even further behind still stuck on making their information available, which is important but soWweb1.0.  The Crowdsourcing Movement is starting to change all this a little, but it’s still the very beginning. 

It will take time but I’m optimistic.  Together we can usher in an Age of Intelligent Action!