As Sandy approaches, anxiety over losing power, connections

My biggest fear: How will I charge my phone?

After its battery dies, how will I keep up on #Frankenstorm and #sandy on Twitter? How will I get the latest strike probability model? How will I know what's afoot on Foot's Forecast?

This is the kind of in-the-dark that I fear: an information blackout.

By now, I'm good on batteries for my flashlights. I have the water jugs from last year's Irene preparations, so I'll refill them. With all the Halloween candy I've stocked up on, I won't starve.

But losing my link to all the storm-tracking websites out there?

I'm not sure when this happened, but I've become addicted to real-time information. My phone, and my laptop before it, have only enabled this.

I tend to get serially obsessed with things — presidential debates, Barbour jackets, salted caramel recipes, you name it. And these days, no matter the obsession, there's probably an app for it. Or multiple websites, blogs and tweets that must be checked, and checked again and again, for the latest blip.

I was enjoying something of a lull in my info-scavenging — once the Orioles bailed out of the post-season, my MLB at Bat app started getting less of a workout. And I was trying to hold off my Election Year, five-times-a-day fivethirtyeight habit until closer to Nov. 6. Gotta pace yourself, you know, don't want to peak too soon.

But along came Sandy, the hurricane that could land a left hook on us as it heads up the Atlantic. So for the past few days, I've been in full, clicking, what's-the-latest mode: The Baltimore Sun's own Maryland Weather blog, the official NOAA, NASA and National Weather Service sites, all those random meteorological bloggers.

All fascinating but increasingly frightening, with every model and projection and map of swirling colors and amoeba-shaped forecast cones putting us in the thick of the stew. And yet I couldn't stop clicking and following links to other links.

But have you noticed how the more you read these days, the less you're reassured? It's not so much that ignorance is bliss — especially in this case, since by all accounts, this is a storm to be reckoned with. But there's also this sort of virtual group dynamic that sets in — you click around about whatever is currently obsessing you, and find validation because all sorts of other people are similarly obsessed.

I think I have "Information Anxiety."

That is the phenomenon Richard Saul Wurman came up with to describe how information seemingly has exploded but not in comprehensible ways. This is something he came up more than 20 years ago, so you can only imagine how much worse it is now. In fact, news articles from when he published a book by that name in 1989 often referred to the info overload brought on by too many faxes.

The problem, Wurman, said when I reached him on Friday, is that a lot of what is called information isn't actually informative.

"Most stuff doesn't really inform you," said Wurman, founder of the brainy-hip TED conferences. "It's just data, because we can do it. Your computer can make data, so it does."

Wurman, an architect who also created the ACCESS guidebooks to make cities understandable to travelers, said you aren't really overwhelmed by true information. If it really informs you, he said, you wouldn't complain about knowing it.

"I think information is power. It reduces your anxiety," Wurman said when I reached him on Friday. "But it has to be in a form you can understand."

Wurman is heartened that, in the years since he first started writing about information anxiety, there are more and more people who sift through all this raw material and put it in more understandable forms.

Indeed, and for that I have to extend my thanks to the Rich Foots and Nate Silvers of the world.

As for Sandy, Wurman hasn't had to sort through the weather blogosphere for his usable information. As it turns out, he can just call his son, Joshua Wurman, who directs the Center for Severe Weather Research and perhaps is most widely known for his appearances on the Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers."

"It could dissipate," the decidedly unanxious elder Wurman said of Sandy's path. "It could move out to sea."

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