Personal Productivity

Information Overload?

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez Tags Habits Work & Life Decision Making
"Knowledge is power, but information is not." ~ David Lewis

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Information overload is a term coined in 1970 by Alvin Toffler, an american writer and scientist whose work focuses on the changes occurring in society as a result of certain technological advances. Information overload occurs when you try to deal with more information than you are able to process and, consequently, either you procrastinate some of the decisions you have to make or you make the wrong ones.

In the current Information Age almost everyone has access to the Internet, the number of sent emails grows exponentially each year and social networks have opened new lines of communication. The cost of storing and duplicating information tends to zero, which means that our computers have larger and larger hard disks that we quickly manage to fill with lots of videos, e-books, music, pictures, etc.

Clay Johnson mentions in his book The Information Diet that a normal person consumes about 11 hours of information every day, reading articles like this, books, news, watching TV, listening to the radio, watching his Twitter timeline, reading his Facebook friends’ wall, etc. Johnson states that the proper term would not be overload but overconsumption of information. Overload is a term that blames information and frees us from any liability (it is not my fault to be bombarded with all this, right?)

We really want to consume much of the information we consume. And though the information itself is not harmful, we use it to make decisions and this point should be important. Therefore, we should worry about having good habits of information consumption. Johnson says that we must see the problem from the standpoint of health instead of effectiveness and productivity. Neuroscience has shown that too much information, besides altering our ability to make decisions, can cause anxiety (information fatigue syndrome) and its psychological effects also influence our body.

Just as there are kinds of food that—although we love them—are not good for our health (fats, sugars, salt), there are kinds of information that we like very much but does not benefit us, at least in large quantities. It is the information that confirms our beliefs. Much of the information we receive is biased. We are aware of it and actually, we prefer it over the unadulterated info. This is why we prefer to see the news on a specific TV channel, we read a particular newspaper or we follow certain people on Twitter. Information that builds affirmation allows us to create strong, cohesive communities.

However, this way we consume information leads to new forms of ignorance. Upon receiving large doses of biased information, we do not even think there can be other possibilities and, of course, we are far from accepting that people who thinks differently may be right.

I think it would not be so bad to change a bit our information consumption habits and start to consciously choose what kind of information we need to consume and how much, don’t you? I’m already on it.

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Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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