Everywhere you turn there seems to be someone complaining about ‘Information Overload’, but what does this really mean? Yes, there is an exponential growth in the amount of information availabe for us to access, but it is how we handle the information that determines whether it makes a difference. I have been thinking long and hard about this issue and have come across some interesting theories to do with just too much information, plus a few theories of my own.
Firstly we have Information Overload
This is where you are not in control of the amount of information being directed at you. It could be that it is all work related and there does not seem to be a way to turn it all off. We have seen a proliferation of courses (such as Personal Effectiveness Program – PEP), systems for prioritising emails, new ways of managing meetings etc – but it just seems you cannot turn the information tap off. I am not sure there is a solution to this one – except for turning off the world and becoming a hermit.
Secondly we have Information Obesity
To me this is similar to the issues described by Clive Hamilton in Affluenza where we just want more and more and more. Luke Naismith called this Infoluenza – but I think it is more like the obesity issues we have in our society. We feel like we have to have it all or we might miss something. This one really is self-induced and probably requires a level of therapy to overcome the problem. I also suspect this one has a lot to do with lack of information literacy as I am sure there are a lot of people who unable to make a judgement on the value of the information they are busy collecting.
Then we have Information Anorexia
Like the eating disorder ‘anorexia’, information anorexia is where the information receiver starts off trying to limit the amount of information they are consuming. This control becomes an obsession and they run a real risk of limiting their intake to such a degree that they only see a distorted view of the world. I have seen this when working in libraries when doing information research where the client says I want information on ‘x topic’ but I only want you to look at this source and that source (often these were 2-3 think tanks only). By limiting or controlling the source you end up missing potentially important and perhaps counter-evidence in your research. Potentially a very dangerous situation if you are doing research for public policy, medicine, intelligence or legal issues.
And finally we have Information Dismorphia
This is a symptom I have seen often where the information receiver is so obsessed by the detail in the information they miss the big picture. I remember a situation many years ago where I sent a data visualisation example to a colleague and suggested they have a look at the method being used to communicate complex data only to have it sent back telling me there were gaps in the data being used. If I remember correctly I made a decision not to pursue the idea as I was aware that my colleague was unlikely to understand what I was driving at as he was too far down in the weeds to see the landscape.
I know I am probably in the information obesity category – but my excuse is that I love finding information and then being able to send it to someone I know is also interested in that topic. I just wish I had more time to read and learn about new and exciting topics.