In today’s always-connected world, information overload is a real problem. The term ‘information overload’ was coined in 1970 by Alvin Toffler, a Russian Academic, and is described as the phenomenon where so much information is taken in that it is impossible for our brains to process it all.
Concerns over information overload have become more prevalent today because of the complexities of the communication systems that are available to us. We are now able to quickly communicate with people from around the world and have access to information 24/7. Information is now freely exchanged at rates never before experienced. However, information overload isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been a problem for society for thousands of years.
The Beginning of Information Overload
Information overload isn’t something that has only been a problem for a couple of decades; it has been an issue for society for thousands of years. It has been a problem since 1439 when Gutenberg invented the printing press. The printing press brought about the development of new patterns of communication that the world wasn’t ready to experience.
Gutenberg’s invention allowed for information to be printed and distributed by the millions, instead of being copied by hand. People suddenly went from reading just a few hundred words a day to being able to read pages and pages of information. This newfound exposure to information resulted in a drastic transformation in society.
With the newfound ability to print books and materials in mass, humans have been obsessed with gathering as much information as possible, without regard to the quality of information they were consuming. During this information age the once illiterate population became literate and started consuming information at an unprecedented rate.
The invention of the printing press also changed the dynamics of what was being printed. Rather than publishing quality information, it became about quantity. There was little regard for the quality of the information that was being printed and distributed to the masses. Today is no different. After the invention of the Internet, our access to information has grown exponentially, with no signs of slowing down.
An Increase in Information
Today, information is merely a Google search away, resulting in the rapid rise of information available to us with a simple click of a button. Today, anybody can publish content online, which has resulted in hundreds of articles and blogs, as well as dozens of books being published on any topic. We can now gather information from blogs, chat forums, videos, social media, and other communication channels at any time and from anywhere. While it’s nice to be able to access information around the clock by just entering a search query into Google, all this information can quickly overburden our brains. Information overload can lead to indecisiveness, bad decisions, and stress.
While search engines like Google, can help us to narrow down the information we need, it can still become overwhelming to search through the pages and pages of search results and filter out the irrelevant information. The problem has become too much information on any given topic. While search engines can provide you with unique and relevant information, you still have to try and decipher the information that pertains to your needs, which can be mind-boggling. Add to this the numerous social media sites, with their plethora of opinions and ideas, and our brains quickly become overburdened.
The amount of information that we’re exposed to every day continues to grow, and we have to find out ways to deal with it so that we can have a clearer mind. You can learn to beat information overload by implementing a few simple rules into your daily life that will allow you to manage the flood of information and gain extra time to spend with your family and friends.
How Information Overload Affects the Brain
As the technological environment continues to change and speed up, the immense burden of information can exceed the limits of our brains. Information overload has given us a glimpse into the environment we must live in daily. To overcome the effects of information overload, we need to understand our capabilities as well as our limitations.
Today’s constant flux of information results in us suffering from mental ‘overload’ that can be a detriment to short-term memory retention. The loss of brain inactivity can impair the cerebral processes that allow short-term memories to be converted into long-term memories.
Previous studies in neuroscience have indicated that our short-term memory, also known as the working memory, can process up to four different stimuli at once. However, when this limit is exceeded, our mental work begins to decline in quality and efficiency. Our working memory is what enables our brains to filter out information and find what we need in the information. It allows us to work online and store the information we find online, but its ability is limited.
Scientists have discovered that juggling email, phone calls, and other incoming information changes the way people behave and how they think. Our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information. The constant onslaught of information plays to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement, that can be addictive. Without it, people often complain of feeling bored.
The resulting distractions can have severe consequences. While you may think that by multitasking you can be more productive, this isn’t the case according to recent studies. Those who spend a majority of their time multitasking can actually have more trouble focusing on tasks and filtering out irrelevant information, which can lead to more stress. Unfortunately, even after you stop multitasking, you will still experience a lack of focus and fractured thinking.
Negative Effects of Information Overload
Before the invention of the Internet, we turned to our local newspapers and the local television stations to learn about what was happening in our neighborhoods and around the world. Today, with the help of the Internet and social media sites, we face the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day of information. All of this information is costing us. Along with damaging our short-term memory, information overload has many adverse effects on our lives.
Trying to keep up with all the information that bombards us daily, can deplete and demoralize us. It can cause us to suffer from headaches, insomnia, and increased amounts of stress. Add to this the perceived need to multitask to increase productivity, and we begin to experience even more pressure.
Our brains have a limited capacity for processing information. The flood of information that we are exposed to daily has led to our minds having trouble separating the trivial from the important. Having to try and process all of this information has made us tired, making it even harder for us to process information.
On average, we consume 63 gigabytes of information daily. That’s the equivalent of 63,000 hours of streaming music, 63 hours of streaming video, and 10,000 times the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Not including the time, we spend at work; this equals 15.5 hours of media per day. According to researcher Gloria Mark, we are so conditioned to interruptions, that if the information doesn’t interrupt us, we interrupt ourselves, causing symptoms similar to Attention Deficit Disorder, a genetically based disorder.
Multitasking throughout your day can actually, temporarily lower your IQ by more than 10 points. Being exposed to so much information makes it impossible to focus on one thing, so information goes from the top-of-the-mind to the tip-of-the-tongue, only to eventually fall out.
How to Beat Information Overload
The fast pace at which we’re exposed to information can quickly overwhelm our brains, which haven’t adapted fast enough to separate the relevant data from the irrelevant easily. This results in our minds becoming fatigued and increasing our forgetfulness. Luckily, we can regain control of our brains by organizing information in a way that optimizes its capacity.
Externalize the Information You Receive
Rather than trying to carry around in your head your list of tasks to complete during the day, write them down. Being able to remove the information from your head and into the external world, helps you to see it objectively, allowing you to make decisions about what you will tackle and in what order.
The brain has a difficult time focusing on everything when information is stored there. It uses up too much energy trying to recall what is on your to-do-list. Manually writing down your list also helps to encode the information into your brain through muscle memory.
Make Big Decisions in the Morning
Every time you have to make a decision, your brain uses some of its neuro-resources. The problem is that your neuro-resources are used up with every choice, whether it’s insignificant or essential. If you spend your day executing a bunch of little decisions, you quickly deplete these neuro-resources, leaving nothing left to make the big decisions. This is what is referred to as decision fatigue. To maximize your brain’s resources, start making your important decisions at the beginning of your day.
Get Your House Organized
Having an organized physical environment helps to lessen the burden on your brain. Create an environment that contains designated areas for things like your keys, glasses, and phones. Create physical reminders in your environment to help alleviate some of the pressure on your brain to recall things.
Routinely, sort through your possessions to reduce the clutter that has accumulated over the years. Sort through your decorations and knick-knacks and get rid of 50 percent of the items to reduce the number of objects you have displayed throughout your house. Go through your closets and get rid of anything that you haven’t used or worn in six months or more.
Limit Social Media
Social media is one of the most significant contributors to our stress, procrastination, and overwhelm in our lives. It takes up a considerable amount of time that we could be using to increase our productivity and quality of work. Streamline your account, by cleaning up your friend’s list and unsubscribing to unnecessary news feeds.
It’s also important to limit the amount of time that you spend on these sites. You can do this by deleting the apps on your phone and scheduling time during your day dedicated only to spending time on social media sites.
Organize Your Time
It is vital that you recognize that you can’t do everything and that there are limits to what you can accomplish every day. You only have a finite amount of energy, so prioritizing your time, including time to recover is crucial. You also need to consider the natural ebbs and flows of your energy and schedule your daily tasks accordingly.
Multitasking can be an incredibly destructive force on your productivity and mental clarity. Studies have shown that when you split your attention between two different tasks, you tend to make more mistakes, and it takes you longer to complete the tasks. To overcome information overload, it is important to learn how to focus on one task at a time.
Managing information overload can be a challenge. However, if you are committed to taking on the problem, you can beat information overload and clear your mind, allowing you to move forward in your life. Everything that happens in your life is a result of the choices you make. As you progress through your day, choose to become more conscious about the decisions your making and decide to get control of your life. By developing structure and establishing good habits, your life will start to slow down and provide you with the opportunity to enjoy more of your life.
Let your thoughts motivate and inspire you to take action. Finding a way to conquer information overload will help you to reduce the stress in your life, clear your mind of all the clutter, and become more productive in your life. Starting today, you can take control of your life and the information you expose yourself to and start living your life to its fullest potential.