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The number of words transmitted to the average home has increased from 3 million a day in 1960 to 11 million in 1980, and Americans may be reaching the point of information overload, according to a speaker at a recent conference on telecommunication.

Despite the increased availability of information from improved technology, there is still one gap scientists and engineers can't bridge - that last 15-inch space between the computer or video terminal and the human brain, according to Dr. Eli Noam, New York Public Service Commission member."That's the last bottleneck we face," Noam said to those attending the University of Utah's 4th Telecommunications Conference.

Noam said dealing with information received is becoming a bigger problem than the actual transmission of the information.

Noam said the challenge facing the telecommunications industry is designing programs that meet customer needs while reducing the chances of overload.

"We could rely on information Darwinism by letting the computer chips fall where they may," Noam joked.

The serious approach, however, will involve developing information screening processes that allow customers to select only the kinds of information desired. This approach will likely require companies to develop custom newsletters and other sorting devices that allow customers to zero in on desired information.

Noam also believes visual symbols will play a greater role, especially if telephone companies eventually win access to television broadcast channels. That is a battle central to future telecommunication developments.

"A shift to multi-visual information is the most likely event," Noam said. He noted that this could involve such things as video messages, picture telephones, increased use of FAX machines and improved random access to data bases where information is stored. The use of symbols will play a key role in making selection and use of such information faster and easier.> Barbara O'Connor, a communications professor at California State College-Sacramento, said it is important that emerging technology not be targeted solely at personal computer owners. She said such action would create an "information underclass" rather than provide a useful service for the public at large. She said making information networks available via telephones is the best way to avoid future conflicts. A national group has been organized to study this concept and should begin meeting in May, O'Connor said.

Henry Geller, director of Duke University's Washington Center, said keeping the common carrier concept is important and that is why telecommunication companies should have access to television channels. He said cable television is too restrictive and puts the companies in the position of being editors with "complete control."