“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” This quote by Herbert A. Simon holds a great degree of relevance in the modern age of technology and development. Nowadays, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, receiving an e-mail from your boss, a text message from your friend, an invite for an event on Facebook and a reply to one of your tweets- all could happen within the span of 2 minutes and we won’t even find it strange. Each day we consume so much information, that it has come to the point of disturbing our mental health and peace. Does society have information overload?
‘Information overload’ is an official term coined by Bantam Gross. He defined Information Overload as “Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision-makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.” In simple words, it means that information is so excessive that our brains are not capable enough of consuming meaningfully all of it, thus causing stress, anxiety and FOMO in the minds of people. Instead of helping us gain knowledge and insight into a topic, it creates confusion in our minds because the information is too much to consume and process in its truest sense. Information overload is therefore also known by other names of brain fog, data smog and the like. According to a report, the world creates around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data everyday and over the span of the last 2 years alone, nearly 90 per cent of all the data in the world was generated. Isn’t it absolutely mind-boggling that smartphones actually outnumber the total people alive in this world and that these electronic devices are being carried around 22 hours every day!
While information is expected to expand and evolve with every passing day, the question is, are our minds competent enough to cope with all of it? Studies have certainly made it clear that employees are under constant stress and confusion as a result of consuming too much information. Not only does it render our ability to think clearly, but it also affects our decision-making, focus, induces anxiety, hampers with critical thinking skills and altogether makes the task at hand tougher than it was before. The information, being produced increasingly through electronic devices in this dynamic technological environment, is constantly evolving, but our brains are not. Our brains are still the same and can’t possibly adapt to the ever-changing series of events happening around us.
Most people would be very quick to blame the problem of information overload on ‘excessive information’. Sadly, that’s not really the case. There’s more to it. The real problem lies in the mishandling and inefficacy to handle information. There’s a lack of developed structures relating to how the information has to be presented, compared, processed and evaluated. The problem has more to do with our responses to information than the information itself. Changes in response standards, increasing competition and workload, information-based demands, are some of the other factors contributing to the problem. We’re expected to work faster, process faster, respond faster and learn faster day by day with no reasonable and developed system relating to information expected to be absorbed by us, which is essentially where all of it is going wrong.
There’s an urgent need for all of us to understand how pertinent and alarming this problem is and consciously make efforts to detoxify and take a step back at regular intervals to rejuvenate ourselves. Not all information is meant to be consumed and hence there’s a need for us to differentiate and segregate the information most important for us. Here comes the role of management of information by altering, delegating, filtering and most importantly, ignoring what’s not needed. Utmost attention must be given only to the data useful to us, either indirectly or directly. Failure in changing our behaviour pattern, bad habits and choices will worsen the situation furthermore. Hence, relevance is key here. Technology, in this scenario, unfortunately, won’t help much to better the situation. Our brains can only take in so much and it’s time we start paying attention to the detrimental effects information overload could have on its health and functioning in the long run. Just like we can’t eat everything there is available on this planet, we can’t consume all the data there is.