Information Overload

As the information age has descended upon this generation, with an overwhelming proliferation of knowledge available 24 hours of the day, the concept of information has arisen. The situation in the world as it pertains to the amount of information constantly accessible and in all places has been described by scholars and journalists as an information explosion. The result of this explosion has manifested in feelings of information overload or information anxiety.

Bernhard Jungwirth and Bertram C. Bruce, writing in their article "Information Overload: Threat or Opportunity," discuss the phenomenon of information overload. They debate whether it is a real issue, as well as its causes, measurability and whether it can be "treated." If something can be done about it, they venture to inquire what that would be.

The explicit question Jungwirth and Bruce pose is whether information overload is a threat, or whether excess knowledge at the fingertips of all is an opportunity for enhanced growth and potential. The great advancements in telecommunications have provided interconnectedness between people across the globe, with an ease that was unimaginable previously. The worldwide web has created instant access to unheard of amounts of information and knowledge.

The challenge facing people is how to take that knowledge, to sift through it to ascertain what is relevant and necessary, and to be able to make sense of it. The integration of this information into daily life, and the extracting the valuable from the excess or waste, can be a formidable task. Moreover, the technological industry does not remain static. Thus what is new and becomes potentially understandable is replaced with phenomenal speed by something even more new, awaiting additional comprehension. The technologies and applications are constantly upgrading with more and more features added. Digital libraries contain vast realms of text, with virtual classrooms and e-learning become the norm. Students require a grasp of technologies together with the ability to wade through copious resources. Educators find themselves in regular and rapid need of advancing their skills and coordinating and managing the load of information they need to organize into a structured form.

Networking through email, and the social networking sites, contribute to the volume with which an average person needs to deal on an average day. New communication technologies such as mobile telephones and applications mean that one is constantly on call and constantly receiving communication and information. Internet speeds have become faster and continue to speed up in order to cope with ever-increasing demands and needs. New job roles have been created, and additional amounts of support staff are required to address the changing, growing information market.

It is within this context of information proliferation and availability that teachers, students, business people, coordinators, media specialists and the average person in the street begin to feel overwhelmed with the barrage of information flooding in. Adding to this is the constant need to update skills, to feel secure within the rapidly changing environment and to find the space to understand and assimilate the newly found knowledge.

Richard S. Wurman has written about what he terms "information anxiety" in his books of the same name. He has stated that "information has become the driving force in our lives, and the ominous threat of this ever-increasing pile of information demanding to be understood has made most of us anxious." Commenting on the nervous concern most people feel regarding the gap between what they understand and what they assume they need to understand, he describes information anxiety as "a black hole between data and knowledge."

Some critics suggest that the concept of information overload is not new, and that it has always been prevalent, though in a relative context. Any situation in which one attempts to navigate a sea of new knowledge may induce feelings of being overwhelmed or overloaded. Historically, it appears that each time there is an upsurge in information becoming available, there is a concomitant growth spurt in the technology or systems that can accommodate the information.

While technological advances have made great inroads into designing storage space and organizing systems to create an easier framework for the explosion occurring, individually there is a way to go toward sifting and storing this knowledge in the human brain. Courses are now being offered to manage overload, including the "do it now" adage, as well as setting up organizational systems, practicing time management planning strategies and placing on paper any information overloading one's mind.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Information Overload: Managing Intelligence Technologies. (Intelligence)
MacDonald, Margaret S.; Oettinger, Anthony G.
Harvard International Review, Vol. 24, No. 3, Fall 2002
Dilemmas in the Study of Information: Exploring the Boundaries of Information Science
S. D. Neill.
Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "The Dilemma of Information Overload: Managing in the Information Society"
An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change
Warren Bennis.
Addison-Wesley, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 16 "Information Overload Anxiety (and How to Overcome It)"
Intranets and Push Technology: Creating An Information-Sharing Environment
Paul Pedley.
Aslib, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Information Overload"
Empowering Intranets to Implement Strategy, Build Teamwork, and Manage Change
D. Keith Denton.
Praeger, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Information Overload" begins on p. 2
Society on the Line: Information Politics in the Digital Age
William H. Dutton; Malcolm Peltu.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Information Overload" begins on p. 157
Communication of Complex Information: User Goals and Information Needs for Dynamic Web Information
Michael J. Albers.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian’s tip: "Information Overload and Information Dumping" begins on p. 147
E-Sphere: The Rise of the World-Wide Mind
Joseph N. Pelton.
Quorum Books, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Information Overload" begins on p. 221
Information Ecology: Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment
Thomas H. Davenport; Laurence Prusak.
Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "Handling Information Overload" begins on p. 91
Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet
Tim Jordan.
Routledge, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Information Overload" begins on p. 117
Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy: The Failure of Reason and Responsibility in the Twentieth Century
Donald N. Wood.
Praeger, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "The Information Overload: The Second Determinant" begins on p. 56
No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends, and the Internet
Pamela Donovan.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "Information Overload" begins on p. 144
Organizational Cognition: Computation and Interpretation
Theresa K. Lant; Zur Shapira.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Librarian’s tip: "Information Overload" begins on p. 335
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