Information Overload in the Internet Age

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In the movie "He's Just Not That Into You," Drew Barrymore has a dialogue to this effect: And now, you have to go through all this just to get rejected by seven different technologies - it is exhausting!

This reflects the time we live in. Information age - Age of Internet, emails, cell phones with ever-increasing features! Information Overload or Infomania has Dictionary definition: a continual and excessive quest for acquiring and disseminating knowledge and information.

As per Wikipedia: Infomania is the debilitating state of information overload, caused by the combination of a backlog of information to process (usually in email), and continuous interruptions from technologies like phones, instant messaging, and email.

On an average, how many sources for News do we use? Newspaper, Radio, TV, News web sites, Youtube, blogs, twitter, RSS feeds, the list goes on. most of the times, we get the same information from various sources. For communication, we use Email, Phone, IM, Text messages, Voicemail, Facebook, Myspace and so on. Not only that, we have multiple phones, email addresses and instant messengers.

Basex is a Research company for Knowledge economy issues and it has called "information overload" as the Problem of the year for 2008. Constant interruptions cost America around $650 billion dollars a year - that could have been the stimulus package!

One of the notions which comes out of all these technologies is that of multitasking. This is a typical office scenario. Any time there is a conference call, people get on the call, press mute button and start "multitasking". They may be replying to emails, reading other documents or even making a cup of coffee. When someone asks a question to a specific person, mostly the reply is: I am sorry, I was on mute. Could you please repeat the question? The phone has a mute button, we have discovered a 'deaf' button as well!

Another nuisance of emails at work is group emails. Someone sends out an email about a ball game to all employees at a site, for example. Thirty enthusiastic responders will 'Reply All' to say 'Count me In'. Five wise men will 'Reply All' to say please do not reply to all. And 4 geniuses will 'Reply All' to say 'Please remove my name from this chain'. You would have received 40 emails in matter of minutes. And if you have a beep or an envelope indicating 'You Have Got Mail', you would hate that feature and pull your hair.

There is a group called Information Overload Research Group and Nathan Zeldes from Intel is the chairman of the group. Nathan estimates "the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week -- we loose one day out of 5!

On an average, a person gets 75 to 100 work emails a day, 50% of these are not relevant. We feel overwhelmed with where to look and what to do, how to find important information or tasks from the bulk - how to sort wheat from the chaff. Add to this the personal email pile -- spam, chain letters and recycled jokes, quotes and so on.

An example of home multitasking: TV is switched on with remote handy to flip channels, laptop is on lap, couple of IM windows are active, cell phone is right there.

Don't get me wrong. Each of these technologies has a great value to make our lives more effective and efficient. The email, chat, GPS, Internet, cell phone - these are all enablers. The fact that we can record a home video, review it on computer, send to family far away or upload on YouTube is really cool. The question is: How to deal with the issue of infomania?

First and foremost, take a stance and build some discipline:We are using the tools, not being used by them.

  • Just because it is possible, you should not be reachable to everybody all the time.
  • When you need to focus on something, turn off your cellphone, don't pay attention to incoming mails. In fact, incoming email indicator can be turned off forever.
  • Allocate chunks of times for email checking and replying. Handle each piece of information minimum number of times.
  • Politely decline meeting requests where you have nothing to gain or contribute.
  • Do not take your computer or work email device during vacation.
  • DO NOT subscribe to every news/blog/RSS feed service.
  • And lastly, meditate to regain your focus.

 

To conclude, Information revolution and information overload is going to continue in 21st century. In order to leverage this revolution for better, we need to pick and choose. And, we need to ask ourselves at the end of the day. week, month -- Are we adding value to our lives and our world? Or, are we getting exhausted coping with the technology created by others?

Bina Mehta is an IT professional with over 18 years of experience. She holds PMP certification from Project Management Institute. She serves as President of FairOaks Toastmasters Club and has achieved Competent Communicator. Her interests include Reading, Writing, Problem Solving, Public Speaking, Yoga