Information Overload

What is information overload?

Information can be defined as "data'' or "facts''. Overload is defined as "an excess of that which is desirable", therefore information overload is an excess of data. Information overload can occur when a person:

  • can not interpret available information.
  • feels overwhelmed by the amount of information available.

A world-wide survey by Reuters in 1996 found that two thirds of managers suffered from increased tension and one third from ill-health because of information overload. The psychologist David Lewis, who analysed the findings of this survey, proposed the term "Information Fatigue Syndrome" to describe the resulting symptoms. Other effects of too much information include anxiety, poor decision-making, difficulties in memorizing and remembering, and reduced attention span 

Reuters published further international research in 1998 revealing pronounced differences in the way that nationalities around the world are coping with the information age. It reveals that while information overload is still a major issue the world over on a business and personal level, the level of concern about it was actually reducing. Many people were starting to understand the problem and learning how to cope with it.

Online information, followed closely by email and the Internet, were stated as the most important resources for surviving information overload, with 44% of managers stating that using a relevant online resource has helped ease information overload. The research suggested technology was no longer regarded as exacerbating information overload, but rather as an enabler of information management. 

Yet individuals tend to rely on personal networks for information, rather than on a central data repository. Despite advances in technology, it's often easier to ask the person next to you for information rather than search for it yourself.  The main problem is the pure volume of data available - one result of having all of this data, is an increased difficulty in finding the particular information for which you are searching. The key is to determine which information is useful, which is not, and where to look next when necessary.

And finally - how do you decide that you have enough information?  Is indecision a cause or effect of information overload?

This is the first in a short series of articles about the excess of information in the "information age".  Future articles will consider:

  • how too much information can be dangerous for a business
  • how additional information can question accuracy
  • how additional information causes change issues
  • how to minimise information overload.

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