Information overload

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Information overload refers to an excess amount of information being provided, making processing and absorbing tasks very difficult for the individual because sometimes we cannot see the validity behind the information [1]. As the world moves into a new era of globalization, an increasing number of people are logging onto the internet to conduct their own research [2] and are given the ability to produce as well as consume the data accessed on an increasing number of websites [3][4]. As of February 2007 there were over 108 million distinct websites and increasing [5]. Users are now classified as active users [6] because more people in society are participating in the Digital and Information Age [7]. More and more people are considered to be active writers and viewers because of their participation [8]. This flow has created a new life where we are now dependant on access to information [9][10]. Therefore we see an information overload from the access to so much information, almost instantaneously, without knowing the validity of the content and the risk of misinformation [11][12].

People nowadays are logging in to the net not only to surf or browse but to donate or share a piece of information. According to Sohora Jha, journalists are using the web to conduct their research, getting information regarding interviewing sources and press releases, updating news online, and thus it shows the gradual shifts in attitudes because of the rapid increase in the Internet.[13]

As a result, there is a downfall or a negative impact within this issue [14]. Together with the amount of information being produced from various people on the net, the problem of Information Overload arises. The implication arises from the psychological field, society and individual [15].


[edit] Definition from other Sources

According to Steve Beller, “I’m defining information overload as a state of having more information available that one can readily assimilate, that is, people have difficulty absorbing the information into their base of knowledge. This hinders decision-making and judgment by causing stress and cognitive impediments such as confusion, uncertainty and distraction” [16]

-“A symptom of the high-tech age, which is too much for one human being to absorb in an expanding world of people and technology. It comes from all sources including TV, newspapers, magazines as well as wanted and unwanted regular e-mail and faxes. It has been exacerbated enormously because of the formidable number of results obtained from web search engines.” [17]

[edit] General causes

The general causes of information overload include:

  • A rapidly increasing rate of new information being produced
  • The ease of duplication and transmission of data across the Internet
  • An increase in the available channels of incoming information (e.g. telephone, e-mail, instant messaging, rss)
  • Large amounts of historical information to dig through
  • Contradictions and inaccuracies in available information
  • A low signal-to-noise ratio
  • A lack of a method for comparing and processing different kinds of information

E-mail remains a major source of information overload, as people struggle to keep up with the rate of incoming messages. As well as filtering out unsolicited commercial messages (spam), users also have to contend with the growing use of e-mail attachments in the form of lengthy reports, presentations and media files.

A December 2007 New York Times blog post described E-mail as "a $650 Billion Drag on the Economy"[18], and the New York Times reported in April 2008 that "E-MAIL has become the bane of some people’s professional lives" due to information overload, yet "none of [the current wave of high-profile Internet startups focused on email] really eliminates the problem of e-mail overload because none helps us prepare replies".[19]

Technology investors reflect similar concerns.[20]

In addition to e-mail, the World Wide Web has provided access to billions of pages of information. In many offices, workers are given unrestricted access to the Web, allowing them to manage their own research. The use of search engines helps users to find information quickly. However, information published online may not always be reliable, due to the lack of authority-approval or a compulsory accuracy check before publication. This results in people having to cross-check what they read before using it for decision-making, which takes up more time.

[edit] Effects and Implications of Information Overload

Impact on society

Negative- People are provided with wrong information about economics, politics and business. Hence, problems like misunderstanding arise in a society, and this creates havoc and madness. Since information is different, people tend to react differently according to their set of beliefs corroborating with the information available. - For example, if there are blogs or websites discussing about culture and if certain numbers of people are not happy with its contents published, hence a peaceful realm will be shaken into the falls of stones and rocks. Also, analysis paralysis.

Positive- The increase of information growth provides opportunity for interaction and communication to take place. Individual are able to converse about certain issues with different information hence bringing up a discussion. For example, in, an LMS site is provided in which unit discussions within students takes place. One of the questions that are being asked is, “Is Second Life the New Life”. As we know, students have a range of information and thus, with their own set of knowledge from journals, books and website references, they argue their points out with one another hence improving the students to think critically and beyond the box. In the midst of this discussion, unintentionally interaction and communication takes place. Though it is taking place virtually yet it is achieving one of the main objective in this century. The social interaction enhances communication as the main tool.

[edit] Responses

1.Response of business and government

Many academics, corporate decision-makers, and federal policy-makers recognize the magnitude and growing impact of this phenomenon. In June 2008 a group of interested researchers from a diverse set of corporations, smaller companies, academic institutions and consultancies created the Information Overload Research Group (IORG), a non-profit interest group dedicated to raising awareness, sharing research results and promoting the creation of solutions around Information Overload.

Recent research suggests that an "attention economy" of sorts will naturally emerge from information overload, allowing Internet users greater control over their online experience with particular regard to communication mediums such as e-mail and instant messaging. This could involve some sort of cost being attached to e-mail messages. For example, managers charging a small fee for every e-mail received - e.g. $5.00 - which the sender must pay from their budget. The aim of such charging is to force the sender to consider the necessity of the interruption.

2. Media

Media like the internet are conducting research to promote awareness of information overload. In [1] , Kyunghye Kim, Mia Liza A. Lustria, Darrell Burke, and Nahyun Kwon conducted a study regarding people who have encountered information overload while searching for health information about cancer and what the impact on them was. The conclusion drawn from the research discusses how health information should be distributed and that information campaigns should be held to prevent irrelevant or incorrect information being circulated on the internet.

Other than that, there are many books published to encourage awareness of Information Overload. Books like “Surviving Information Overload” by Kevin A. Miller and “Managing Information Overload” by Lynn Lively. [21]

[edit] Related terms

A similar term "information pollution" was coined by Jakob Nielsen. The term "interruption overload" has begun to appear in newspapers such as the Financial Times.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Yang, C.C. (2003) Decision Support Systems. Amsterdam. April 2003. Volume 35, Issue 1, p89. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008).
  2. ^ Internet World Stats (2008)INTERNET USAGE STATISTICS The Internet Big Picture - World Internet Users and Population Stats 2000-2008. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008).
  3. ^ Bonfield, B. (2007)Consuming Information Library Journal, New York: Oct 15th 2007, Volume 137, Issue 17, p26 (1 page). URL: (accessed on 5th september 2008).
  4. ^ Russo, A. & Watkins, J. (2005) Intenational Journal of Education and Development using Information and communication technology, Bridgetown: Dec 2005, Volume 1, Issue 4, p4 (14 pages). URL: (accessed on 5th September).
  5. ^ Boutell (2007) 'WWW FAQS: How many web sites are there?' URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008).
  6. ^ Benbunan-Fich, R. & Koufaris, M. (2008) Electronic Markets, London: May 2008, Volume 18, Issue 2, p150. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008)
  7. ^ Jones, B. (1993), "An Age of Discontinuity", in Sleepers Wake! Technology and the Future of Work, 3rd Ed., Melbourne, Oxford University Press, pp. 11-45
  8. ^ Jenkins, H. (2006) Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, New York University Press
  9. ^ Cheng, R & Vassileva (2006) Design and Evaluation of an adoptive incentive mecahanism for sustained educational online communities, User modelling and user-adapted interaction. Dordrecht. Sep 2006, Volume 16, Issue 3-4, p321. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008)
  10. ^ Baxter, A. (2008) Better interactivity benefits student faculty, Financial Times, London (UK) March 17th 2008, p4 URL: (accessed 27th August 2008
  11. ^ Flew, T. (2008) New Media: An Indroduction, Third Edition, Oxford University Press: Australia
  12. ^ Graham, G (1999) The Internet: A Philosophical Inquiry, Rotledge: London
  13. ^ Sonora Jha, 2007, Social Movements, The Internet and The Press, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly-New Media, Volume 84, No.1, pg 42
  14. ^ Centaur Communications Limited (2006) Data Retention: Information Overload. New Media Age. London: March 16th 2006, p25. URL: (accessed on 27th August 2008).
  15. ^ Schick, A.G. & Haka, S. (1990) Accounting, organizations and society, Oxford, Volume 15, Issue 3, p199 (22 pages) URL: (accessed on 27th August 2008).
  16. ^, “Information Overload and Health Decision-Making Part 1”, Saturday September 11, 2006
  17. ^, The Independence Guide to Technology
  18. ^ "Is Information Overload a $650 Billion Drag on the Economy?". New York Times. 2007-12-20. 
  19. ^ "Struggling to Evade the E-Mail Tsunami". New York Times. 2008-04-20. 
  20. ^ "Did Darwin Skip Over Email?". Foundry Group. 2008-04-28. 
  21. ^

[edit] See also

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