Information Overload

Topics: E-mail, Information overload, Continuous Partial Attention Pages: 5 (1718 words) Published: January 30, 2013
Since the beginning of time, information has always been considered a good thing, a means to grow, and a way to develop and sustain culture. In the past, information had often been considered scarce, and truly a privilege to have. Now, information is being produced and received at a rapid rate. Humans cannot process as much information as the amount continuously flowing in. We are in a state of information surplus, an era of information overload.

According to Lehtonen, information discrepancy is the “deficit that arises when we reach our processing limits, but more information continues to stream in.” Having a finite amount of cognitive resources available for any given task, humans are limited capacity processors. Studies have proven that people can only hold seven bits of information at any given time. Therefore, as more people are becoming classified as “active users” in the digital age, overload occurs when a message is more complex than one can remember. In Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer, he predicted a time in which we now live. A time of Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, The Black Shakes, information overload. With the help of the internet, information being produced and consumed is perpetually increasing. Besides the growing use of the internet, there are many other causes of information overload. Firstly, the means by which information is received is continuously increasing as technology advances. People can receive information via telephone, e-mail, instant message, and more. As new information is discovered, people are always updated, and constantly informed about it. Thus, as we increase our knowledge, we often find ourselves digging through thousands of years worth of historical content as well. In addition, many sources are unreliable; contradictions and inaccuracies in available information cause information discrepancy and further the overload. Time is taken to review each source, and intake more information. However, even if both sources are accurate, humans have trouble comparing and processing different types of information due to a low signal-to-noise ratio. Lastly, as people are bombarded by information, it is often unrelated, and therefore, cannot be processed correctly, and is often overlooked. As culture progresses, the information overload appears to progress with it. Within minutes people can be overloaded with information on the internet, television, radio, and text messages all at once. E-mails, although appearing to be useful and helpful to numerous businesspeople, in fact cause more trouble than expected. They are a major source of information overload. People cannot keep up with the rate of incoming messages, many of which are considered spam. Furthermore, people have to keep up with the large attachments that are often included in E-mails. The New York Times states that E-mail “has become the bane of some people’s professional lives.” Due to information overload, “a $650 Billion drag” is now on the economy. According to David Shenk’s “Data Smog,” there are many other negative consequences of information overload as well. Firstly, at such a fast moving pace, according to Boyce’s Ergonomics, people now have increased cardiovascular stress. Additionally, people’s health is affected by increased exposure to certain information and communication technology. Japanese researchers documented a decline in visual abilities between 1970 and 1990. This is attributed to exposure to television and other forms of technology. In the future, it is predicted that all of Japan will be near-sided. Not all the effects however are health-related; some are mental. According to Malhorta in the “Journal of Consumer Research,” people are unable to efficiently process the information, thus causing mass confusion. This in turn lowers frustration tolerance and cognitive complexity. People are used to things happening now, at a quick speed, and can’t be patient. As information overload...
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