Content, content everywhere and not a byte to process. Or rather, far too many bytes that can be processed by the human brain. In the age of instant information, often coming in uninvited in the form of push notifications, updates, pop-up ad reels and news clips, decluttering the white noise can become a never ending battle. And that’s for information you’re not even looking for. Intentional research and fact-finding in the digital age is nothing short of mentally training and (dare we say) sometimes even traumatic, leaving our exhausted minds susceptible to misinformation and fake news.
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If this sounds like an all too familiar Monday to you, there’s a high chance that you’re suffering from information overload. It’s no surprise, given the inordinate number of sources of information at our fingertips and the ever-expanding volume of irrelevant information housed on these channels and platforms.
If you feel overloaded by fake news, spam and inaccurate information, you’re not alone. However, if you experience information overload, it’s important to understand the negative mental toll it can take and what proactive steps you can implement to do some all-important digital housekeeping to keep irrelevant data at bay.
To help you to avoid information overload, we’ve crafted a complete guide to better understanding it, why it happens and what you can do to overcome it. Your brain and your attention span will thank you!
Before we proceed any further, let’s define information overload. Despite appearing to be a fairly recent concept, the term “information overload” has been circulating in popular and scientific thought since the 1960s. The term information overload was first coined by Betram Gross, a Professor of Political Science at Hunter College in New York City.
Gross discussed the concept of information overload in his 1964 published work, titled “The Managing of Organizations.” In his work, Gross explained information overload as “when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.”
However, the concept remained fairly covert until the popular author and futurist Alvin Toffler referenced information overload in his book “Future Shock” in 1970, popularizing and introducing it to the wider public.
Essentially, information overload occurs when a system is overwhelmed by a volume of data input that exceeds its processing capacity. For humans, information overload is a state of being overwhelmed by the volume of information presented for our attention and processing.
If we receive more data than our brains can register and process at a single point, our brains will reflexively filter out certain information. This leaves us at risk of fatigue, reduced or impaired concentration and hindered decision-making due to missing or inaccurate information. Sound familiar? We’re pretty sure we can all relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed by too much information, whether it’s textual, visual or auditory.
Some examples of information overload can include:
We’re so primed and conditioned to consume information, that we often engage in behaviors that trigger information overload without even realizing it. Examples of this can include habitually scrolling through social media or instant messages on your phone while at work or attempting to focus on one task, having multiple screen tabs open at the same time and shifting between them and juggling multiple tasks simultaneously while splitting your attention between them.
While it might sound innocuous enough (especially if it’s something we all constantly do), the long-term effects of information overload are serious. Some of the negative effects of experiencing information overload include:
Over time, repeated exposure to information overload can impact a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, commonly leading to feelings of disillusionment and persistent confusion while working or conducting research. Fatigue, mental exhaustion and burnout can also occur more quickly when we’re operating in a constant state of information overload.
Social media platforms are a hive of activity, powered by algorithms designed to get the right content in front of the right eyes at all times. With social media platforms competing against each other and content competing within platforms for more views, shares, likes and clicks, these platforms are a key driver of the attention economy – in which human attention is the most precious commodity.
It makes sense then, that an overwhelming amount of information can come directly from social media apps and channels, fueling information overload quickly and consistently.
Our clicks and engagement with the content presented to us also informs social media algorithms what kind of content we most enjoy and interact with. In the information age, where content can be created and curated seamlessly for the purpose of views, this can quickly become hazardous, increasing our chances of viewing and engaging with fake news and misinformation.
The more fatigued we become from information overload, the more likely we are to only engage with surface-level social media content (whether for work or entertainment), which can be fake, inaccurate or even irrelevant.
Not only can this negatively impact our work and our professional relationships, but it can also leave us vulnerable to consuming potentially harmful content that could subliminally influence our beliefs and actions.
Suffering from information overload is not something we ever feel used to, no matter how connected we are to our phones, the internet, apps and so on. The long-time effects and consequences are simply not worth it.
What’s a well-meaning 21st century individual to do? Unplug entirely? For most of us, that’s not a viable option, but there are a few things we can do to mitigate the effects of information overload and protect our precious attention, focus and creativity.
Every day, we’re inundated with data from every possible digital (and non-digital) source. The struggle is real and trying to eliminate the possibility of information overload just isn’t possible given the interconnected nature of our lives.
The next best step is to manage information overload through preventative and curative strategies to safeguard your concentration, attention span, productivity and sanity! The less we’re at risk of information overload, the less likely we are to consume fake news, erroneous information and misinformation.
One key way to prevent yourself from becoming an information overload casualty is to be more selective about how and from where you consume your content. Invisibly, for instance, is a platform that brings select content to you from vetted, established news and media sources like The Wall Street Journal and the Miami Herald, among others.
On Invisibly, the power’s in your hands – you get to choose what content and information you consume, all sourced from leading news publications. You choose what you see and read, free from spam and other irrelevant information that can clutter your feed. No frills, no fake news, just the content you want, when you want it.
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