Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Too Much Forest, Too Few Trees


The old proverb about not being able to see the forest for the trees, has been turned upside down. Now, we can’t see the trees for the forest. That is, we can’t find the specific tree(s) we seek in the Internet’s overwhelming forest of information.

That proverb tells us that a person immersed in details cannot see the big picture. It’s a warning, an admonition to lift your head occasionally (from watching your steps) to see where you’re going. As if it’s a choice anymore.

Beaten and bruised from trying to find the right information, we’ve lost all thoughts of a big picture. Drowning in the whirlpool of incoming nonsense and social networking, we can only focus on the immediate. These missives (or missiles) of information rush at our brains faster than we can think. There’s no stepping back, no way to take a long view, no chance to gain any perspective.

The metaphor can be expanded. Like any overgrown forest, many of the trees are immature and most of the ground is covered with insignificant underbrush (not to mention dead wood). Forests, in the non-digital world, need maintenance. They need to be renewed, usually through controlled fires. Without renewal, forests choke to death. Overgrown forests are why people get lost.

I’m not suggesting deforestation (or even defenestration). And if you think I’m just complaining about search engines, the same problem occurred last week when I was searching for apps.

To find the trees, clearly we need help: guides, maps, or some clues. Providing help (in any form) isn’t easy, but it is doable. Yet it isn’t being done. Instead of receiving help, we are looked upon as mere numbers to be maximized—instead of humans with needs.

Business should adhere to Peter Drucker’s definition of a customer: one who values your products and services and has a relationship with your business. The only relationship I see these days is adversarial.

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