Throughout history, all generations have at some time thought that they have reached the peak of information overload. Indeed information overload is a recurring problem that is also known as infoxication or infobesity. It refers to the availability of information in amounts that exceed the required threshold to solve a problem. Quite often, the emergence of information overload is directly attributed to a reduction in the quality of decision made. Today, the problem is an increasing menace both at the workplace and in the general livelihoods. It occurs when one is trying to deal with more information than the available capacity to make logical decisions (Joy, 2000). The effects of information overload result in either a wrong decision or a delayed decision-making process. For instance, today’s average person receives emails and incoming messages in excess of their handling capacity. Consequently, the management of this information at fairly comprehensible levels is quite challenging thus resulting in information overload. That notwithstanding, the causes of information overload are easily identified and the solutions achievable.
Although the term has been in existence for several decades, it has never been as real as it is today. The term was famously used in a 1970 book by Alvin Toffler in the prediction of the looming problem caused by vast amounts of information. The phenomenon was predicted to be problematic to the general public as their capacity to manage information in large quantities was not enhanced. There is a general misconception that the current generation is the only one that has been exposed to huge amounts of information due to the assertion of living in an information age. However, written information has been used in the past thousands of years to make decisions. The invention of the printing press in the twentieth century enabled the mass distribution of information to hordes of people. This did not necessarily result in a phenomenon of information overload as most people were not reached. The advent of the modern computer has however increased the creation, access and duplication of available information to multitudes of people across the world (Eppler & Mengis, 2004). Through this process of information sharing, the general public has continually been exposed to the problem information overload.
The causes of information overload are vast and diverse depending on the affected party. In effect, therefore, the concept of information overload is a common occurrence in offices and organizations around the globe. One of the salient causes of information overload is an increase in the capacity to constantly create new information. With the advent of smart phones and the social media platforms, every person can be a reporter and editor thus conveying huge amounts of information. The internet is now a market place for information sharing where information is relayed to willing parties for free. Consequently, the creation of huge amounts of information results in an ever increasing information overload as the ability of humans to use the information is not enhanced. As more information is shared across the internet platform, the possibility of duplication becomes more real (Joy, 2000). The people have a high chance of resending and redistributing information to other parties resulting in extremely large quantities of information shared. In the end, there is a potential for information overload as their capacity to comprehend the information shared is not increased.
The exchange and sharing of information is a contributing force to the problem of information overload. Today, the average person is struggling to keep up with the rate of incoming messages in their mailbox. Moreover, one has to filter incoming messages while contending with the ever increasing amount of attachments that accompany these emails. Although there is an increase in the number of innovative products targeted at emails, none of these solutions is suited to the elimination of the problem in entirety. In 2010, the number of emails sent daily increased by fifty billion to hit the 300 billion mark (Levitin, 2015). The problem is further compounded by attempts to read through all emails instead of deleting the unnecessary ones while sorting the rest. Ultimately, people are faced with more information than they can logically use in the process of decision making. Emails, therefore, pose an increasing risk to the possibility of information overload to both organizations and the general public.
The concept of information overload is also attributed to increasing pressure to create and compete in information provision among providers. The existence of numerous sources of information each competing against the other has resulted in an overload of information (Edmunds & Morris, 2000). The process through which this process is achieved results from a focus on quantity rather than quality in the provision of information. In the provision of news items, for instance, agencies and individuals are in a rush to be the first conveyors of information resulting in sometimes inaccurate records. The simplicity, with which information is shared, created and duplicated online further compounds the problem. People can now disseminate information they receive to thousands of users through the click of a button. Also, there is a general proliferation in the number of channels through which information is received including televisions, radios, print media, emails, and telephones. The availability of all these channels means that information is duplicated involuntarily.
Despite the problematic nature of information overload, its effects can be solved or avoided depending on the different stages. The solution of information overload can be achieved through a reduction in duplicated information or an improvement in the handling capacity of people involved. One of the most effective ways of avoiding the problem is through a shift from information that is nice to know to information that is necessary. Consequently, people should spend more time gaining information that is necessary and less time learning unnecessary information. Also, the organization should focus on the quality of information received and shared rather than the quantity (Eppler & Mengis, 2004). In this regard, information providers should shift in their nature of reporting from the quantity inclined model to one that is focused on quality. The information created should also be direct and anticipate short ad precise responses from the receivers. Lastly, one can avoid information overload by spending part of their lives away from normal disruptions such as disconnection of email alerts during specific times of the day.
In conclusion, the problem of information overload is a reality that the people must face in today’s ever-changing world. Organizations and individuals are at an increasing risk of suffering from the problem since information shared is more than the capacity to logically comprehend it. The cause of the problem is rightfully identified as emanating from an increase in the number of information sharing channels. Also, the competition between these channels coupled with their emphasis on quantity rather than quality has resulted in a larger problem. That notwithstanding, there are attainable solutions including a shift from quantity dependent information to one that is focused on quality. Further, the nature of information shared should be direct to warrant short and precise responses.
Edmunds, A., & Morris, A. (2000). The problem of information overload in business organisations: a review of the literature. International journal of information management, 20(1), 17-28.
Eppler, M. J., & Mengis, J. (2004). The concept of information overload: A review of literature from organization science, accounting, marketing, MIS, and related disciplines. The information society, 20(5), 325-344.
Joy, B. (2000). Why the future doesn’t need us. Nanoethics. The Ethical and Social Implications of Nanotechnology, 17-30.
Levitin, D. (2015). The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (1st ed.). Westminster: The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.
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