I have been thinking about information overload for a couple of weeks now because I am planning to do a presentation on it soon. Thinking about how I consume information and how to avoid getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount I encounter on a daily basis. This is a problem that I believe most regular users of the internet encounter because we live in an information-rich world.
We all spend most of our waking lives staring at a screen. This could be a computer or laptop screen at work and home, a smart mobile phone screen anywhere, a tablet screen if you have one, and a TV screen at home. Most of the digital content we consume on a daily basis is via a screened device.
The internet’s global networked connections ensure that information is readily available and accessible to anyone connected or plugged to the net. It has enabled content to be king in our lives. Everyone with internet access has the power to be both a creator and consumer of content. All your tweets, Facebook updates, BBMs, blog posts etc are all digital content which you put out there in cyberspace. All this content contributes to the information tsunami that overwhelms us all.
I love this quote from the political scientist and economist, Herbert Simon, whose observation in a 1969 article is still relevant in 2012.
“When we speak of an information-rich world, we may expect, analogically, that the wealth of information means a dearth of something else – a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is obvious: it consumes attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
If the wealth of information creates a poverty of attention then attention management is vital to staying effective in an information-rich world. Attention is a scarce resource because it is time limited hence the need for us all to manage it effectively. We simply can’t attend to every piece of information available and accessible to us. There is so much crap content out there that it is becoming increasingly hard to find good content.
I believe that there are two consequences of information overload: the first is distraction – which is the inability to focus easily on one item because of so much attention-grabbing online content which is not always good content. The second is stress which is a result of getting overwhelmed by the information tsunami and the pressure to be constantly updated on latest developments and news.
Clay Shirky, a media guru, however argues that we don’t have an information overload problem but rather an information filter problem. We don’t have in place adequate filters (tools) to prevent us from getting overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of information we are constantly bombarded with.
I would like to know if you experience information overload or information filter issues as well and how do you manage your attention in an information-rich world to prevent getting distracted and stressed? Do you use any particular online tools or apps to help you manage your information consumption? Please use the comments’ section below to share your thoughts.