THE MESS WE’RE IN: INFORMATION OVERLOAD IN THIS AGE AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT
The Mess Of Our Age
We need information to survive in this age. But it is information that is killing us. The arrival of the information age has brought in a knowledge-based society that is driven by high tech technology. Information can now be churned up at blinding frequencies, disseminated in a matter of seconds to viewers and audience in all over the world and the impact felt almost immediately. There is an information glut. We have become ‘informationally’ overweight and we risk long-term devastating consequences We are like the overfed, overweight child drowning in the pool of ‘information food’ and vomitus. Call it information obesity. Infobesity it is. We are experiencing on a daily basis, apart from the toxicity of green house gases, an infotoxication- information toxicity as the Wikipedia article puts it.
But the problem of information overload is not new: it has has an age-old history. To quote the holy writ, Ecclesiastes 12:12:
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many book there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
And in the 1st Century AD, Seneca says:
distringit librorum multitudo
(the abundance of books is distraction)
Ann Blair says that that signs of information overload were already present in the the accumulation of manuscripts in pre-modern cultures which were further accelerated by the introduction of printing in the 15th-century Europe by Gutenberg. Printing made available a huge number of books and ultimately lowered the cost of books. Books were no longer concentrated in the hands of the elite. The average person now had access to the information as well. However, the rate at which information could be read, digested and remembered could not keep pace with the rate at which information, through books, was being churned out. To cope with the situation came in aids of various kinds- copying relevant passages of books and hiring people to take notes. But the problem as it was then is nothing compared to the now of information age. The problem of information overload has only has been magnified to the nth degree in this age of the internet and new digital technologies.The 2017 statistics, Things That Happen On The Internet Every 60 Second gives the following absolutely incredible highlights:
- More than 168 million emails are sent
- 695,000 status updates and 510,040 comments are published on Facebook
- Google serves more that 694,445 search queries
- 370,000+ minutes of voice calls done by Skype users
- 20,000 new posts are published on Tumblr
- 13,000+ hours of music streaming flows from Pandora
- More than 13,000 iPhone apps are downloaded
- 6,600 images are published on Flickr
- 600 videos (about 25 hours of content) are uploaded to YouTube
Infographic by- GO-Gulf.com
How We Are Being Messed Up
“…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”
― Herbert A. Simon
Attention is a personal resource that is scarce-subject to opportunity costs like every other scarce commodity. We can only focus on a few things at a time and only so much. But the drag of information from various quarter on our attention is creating a bad culture- a culture of distraction where our minds flitter from one thing to the next. You are working, hoping to finish a task on time when a push notifications beckons for your attention. And the allure to see what it is is almost irresistible. What if this is an opportunity I will miss? As you take a peek, a series of e-mail arrives. You shrug and decide to ‘see’ and then before you are done with the e-mails, arrives notifications from Facebook . And it’s your longtime friend abroad who has sent a post. You feel like you must see this. You tell yourself that since you have started attending to these information already, you had better finish. But the deception is a sneaky one. Before you know it, you have spent over three hours on the social media and your priority work is not done. And then guilt and self-loathing steps in, setting you up for another cycle of the addictive behaviour. Does the experience sounds familiar?
I was heartbroken sometime ago when a national exam body in Nigeria lamented how the social media is responsible for the failure rates of student in the country. Could a seemingly harmless distraction from reading be responsible for stealing the futures of our generation? I ache. The impact then is not harmless as one might think. A study corroborating this dismal fact states in a likewise dismal tone that children who spend much of their time online find it harder to concentrate in class, are permanently distracted and have shorter attention spans. The report concludes that the children with the poorest grades at school are the ones who spent most time on social networking.
And it is not only individuals who are facing the menace of attention deficits due to information overload. Huge corporations and national economies are not left out. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found after careful observation that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. And it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where they left off. Jonathan Spira, author of “Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization,” estimates that interruptions and information overload eat up 28 billion wasted hours a year, at a loss of almost $1 trillion to the U.S. economy.
Wikipedia article on Information Overload quotes A December 2007 New York Times blog post which described e-mail as “a $650 billion drag on the economy.”
With information overload also comes the inability to make quality decisions. Surrounded by huge amount of information that are so conflicting, we face an information shock that paralyzes us. We are unable to choose from various alternatives. Our anxiety to take the best decision in the face of the glut mounts and inevitably becomes counterproductive to our best intent. In the end, we must make decisions; we must take a decision because the world will not stand still for us to sort through the melee of information confronting us. The confusion at having served conflicting, contradictory information eventually leads us on a path to poor judgement and decisions.
That man is led primarily by emotions and not by reason is further accentuated by the information glut of the information age. If you think I am incorrect to say man is largely governed by emotions, tell me then how reasonable it is for a person to buy a bottle of Pepsi because his favorite artiste NIcki Minaj advertised it?
A Google search will fetch all articles on the internet to confirm one’s bias. One cannot think of anything that has no article for or against it on the internet. I was amazed myself when I discovered this. I found out that there was virtually no topic that I could think of that has not being written about on the internet. Try it yourself. Think of anything- just anything! Do a Google search and prove the fact yourself. This discovery leaves man at his whims. Everything is relative. Nothing is ever correct or wrong. We are validating the saying in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” A morally relativistic society where anything goes is an unenviable one tethering on the brink of a precipice.
What We Can Do About The Mess
One thing: we cannot afford allow ourselves to be swallowed up by information overload. If we are to live happy and productive lives, our attention must be regained and directed at that which matters. A splintered mind is a splintered life and at best good for nothing and worth nothing. A mind divided among conflicting ideas is a injurious to our mental health.
To study and raise awareness about the problem and provide solutions, the Information Overload Research Group (www.iorgforum.org) was created by interested parties from the corporate and academic worlds.The group quotes Huffington post ‘8 Tips For Avoiding Information Overload’. The blog post was based on what nine readers said works for them:
- Skip the alerts
“I’ve disabled my social media and email app alerts. I only log in when I have spare time [versus] every moment my phone dings. It helps you stay centered and on task.” ― Brandi Garrigus
- Personalize your feeds
“I make personal news feeds so I can choose exactly what kind of ‘posts’ I want to see pop up on my page. I have ‘High School friends,’ ‘Politics,’ ‘Local Photographers,’ ‘News and Weather’ and other feeds so I can ignore crazies when need be.” ― Donna Weckerly
- Log off
“I log off for a week once a month and read, paint and cook instead.” ― Tashika Shah
“The secret is to scroll on by ― some people’s postings are not personal and some news [is] sensationalized and written with an agenda… Scroll on by and filter… And prioritize. Urgent and important have key differences.” ― Bevon Bernard
- Read books
“I read a book on my Kindle for Mac to break up the [Facebook] madness. Works for me…” ― Ralph Guay
“I go back to reading my book to clear my mind.” ― Frances Quinn
- Unfollow and unsubscribe
“I clear email subscriptions at least once a week… On social media, I skim and regularly clear out pages posting excessive clickbait, sensationalist/outrageous fake news or articles. I actively seek out three to four news sites ― and unfollow personal feeds that work my nerves.” ― Nikole Hester
- Let it go
“Sometimes. You. Just. Have. To. Stop. Take a breath. Let it go. I like to put feeds into categories. Family comes first.” ― Laura Liebel
- Clean house
“I used to have over 900 friends and well over 1,500 ‘liked’ pages. I got too involved in everything I felt like I was losing myself. I spent almost four hours un-friending and un-liking things. It feels so much better to only see my close family and friends’ items.” ― Sharon Trobaugh
The impact of information overload does not spare anyone of us. The consequences attending information overload can be more devastating than we think. It requires that we look deeply into the matter and see how our lives are being shaped negatively by it. I have determined to do same. We must win this war of information against us. We must convert information from being our enemy to our friend; to something all-benefical. We must, If we care. For ourselves.
Have a great day.
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