Solving the Problem of Information Overload

Information 1

Information Overload

“I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.” (Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring)

Can you relate? While specifics vary from one person to the next, many people, myself included, feel spread thin by the constant flow of information and constant access available every minute of every day. And we largely bring it on ourselves through our unbalanced approach to interacting with technology.

This lack of balance leads to too much information coming too fast with no down time allowing for processing any information in a healthy way. Information overload does to our minds what indiscriminate eating and a sedentary life do to our bodies.

Infobesity

Information overload, known as “infobesity” or “infoxication,” has actually been around since the 1970’s. Over time, information overload leads to “information anxiety,” which distracts and negatively impacts an individual’s ability to be productive.

Even before any of these terms existed, George Miller hypothesized that humans have limited ability to process information and that overload results when these limits are exceeded. Evidence of taxed limits include…

  • Confusion
  • Poor decision making
  • Inability to generate original thoughts
  • Inability to have unique ideas

Nichoas Carr and Eric Schmidt agree with Miller and say that information overload could have an impact on though processes by…

  • Obstructing deep thinking
  • Blocking understanding
  • Impeding formation of memories
  • Making learning more difficult

This condition of “cognitive overload” results in diminished information retaining ability and failure to connect remembrances to experience stored in the long-term memory, leaving thoughts thin and scattered.

Simply put, information overload reduces our ability to think, understand, form memories and learn. It limits our capability for retaining information and accurately remembering experiences.

Finding Balance

To a great extent, we cannot control how much information comes our way nor how much we have to use technology. However, we’re not helpless either. We can find balance and avoid feeling spread thin by overindulgence.

Balance comes through setting information boundaries that mitigate the negative impact the constant flow of information has on a person’s ability to think, reason and remember. It also comes through deliberately capturing  and filtering thoughts.

(Note: The next two posts will look at the idea of capturing & filtering thoughts in relation to technology and information overload, and next Thursday’s post focuses on providing ways to find balance by creating information boundaries.)

Creating balance in the atmosphere of the inner self requires developing ways to regulate and filter the information entering our lives. Doing so helps create a state of  information balance instead of information overload in our lives.

DISCUSSION: What symptoms do you see of information overload in your life?

31 thoughts on “Solving the Problem of Information Overload

  1. Awesome post! I have felt inflected by the TMI disease lately. Walking away for five days has been a good reminder of what it feels like to filter out the "crap" we accumulate because we fear our instincts and abilities. Partner up with only the one(s) you trust and let go of the rest. Everyone has an opinion, but only one matters in the end. Find the small handful of partners who share the same passions and get out from the crowd who is stealing your time and your energy. You cannot win the race when caught in the middle of the pack! Run only with those who push you and you push them. Thanks partner!
    My recent post Humility Raises Us Higher and Deeper

    • Thanks, Mike. Getting away always resets my perspective and focuses me again on simplifying. Every time I go away for at least one night, this happens. The idea of focusing on fewer and going deeper with those continues to be the focus, and this applies with people and ideas and commitments. I love the analogy of not being able to win the race in the middle of the pack It's so true, and it's something we've told our oldest, who is a distance runner. I feel I can have as many acquaintances and outer circle people (virtual or face-to-face) as comes my way, but the inner circle does need to have some limits. One thought I struggle with as I say this… It sounds so exclusive and limiting somehow. Is this just a feeling from going against the crowd? Or, is there something more to it? Thoughts?

      • Jesus embraced the crowds but knew when to withdraw. He spent most of his time with his inner circle of disciples, and when really anxious "alone with the Father."

        We should do no less and certainly have no qualifications to do more than His example. Remember popular opinion turned on Jesus too! Don't create from what seems to be the popular thing to do… If you want to learn to sing do you join a choir to learn or find an experienced and trusted teacher?
        My recent post What Value is Grace?

        • Terrific points, Mike. We should follow Jesus' lead in this (and in all things for that matter) to help us find balance in our approach to technology use and managing information. He also used different approaches for different people and needs, which tells me that everybody will have a unique approach to solving the problem of information overload in their own lives.

  2. Kari,
    A problem I see with the unlimited access to information is that we do not challenge our mind to remember things. We think our fall back position is always I can look it up in a few seconds. I wonder if this lack of "exercising our minds' hurts us. I think it does. I think the things that you have committed in your memory helps you think deeper in the sense you have more ideas to link together; more diverse information to pull from and develop your thoughts more completely.
    I think we have got to cut the ties to unlimited information access and attempt to use our minds to store information as well as evaluate it. I think our first choice should not be to "look it up" but to "pull it out'.
    Years ago I bought a course to help one expand the use of their memory. I enjoyed that and still use techniques I learned from that. I think it would be helpful to redo that periodically.

    • What you describe is definitely a problem and one research has been focused on. Here's a very interesting article on the topic: http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07…. What techniques did you find most helpful from the course? I am very interested in retraining my brain to read longer works (focus on them fully) and to retain and then be able to recall the information I read and take in. Also, I want to be able to take the good from how we're currently learning to take in and retrieve information while at the same time not allowing it to create an unbalanced state of mind where I cannot do anything without my tech device acting as my memory. Looking forward to your input!

      • It is scary when that article says "Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged." I don't wont to end up like that. One who does not read and think deeply.

        I guess the technique I found most useful was pegging. It is explained here: http://www.thememoryinstitute.com/the-peg-system….

        • I don't want to end up like that either. I'm on a mini-quest to find out how to reverse what has already happened and to develop habits that allow for balance. For me, to not read and think deeply is to not be who I am. The pegging technique is interesting…

  3. Your recent posts have helped me to decide to go without an Internet connection at home for the summer. It's sort of an experiment and an attempt to simplify life and spend more time outdoors this summer. I'll disconnect from my current Internet provider on the first day of summer and connect to a new provider at the end of summer. I'll still be blogging. I'm posting some in advance and will use my computer a work a little and go to Starbucks a couple times a week. We'll see if I can make it all summer.
    My recent post news from hip diggs

    • Love the idea of this experiment, Dan. I know you'll be talking about it on your blog, but I would welcome guest posts (one or more) on mine as well either before, during, after… whatever. Be interesting to hear about your daughter's take on this too. On a smaller scale, I plan on proposing to my family that our upcoming camping trips this summer be technology free. It will be easier for my and my husband but not so much for my boys who think they need to listen to music as they fall asleep. We'll see what happens, but I know I am definitely doing it. I'm thinking about doing it also on our next family vacation. Looking forward to reading about your experiment!

  4. Unfortunately, given the nature of my job, i cannot disconnect. I can only monitor my use. While I certainly admire Dan's desire and plan, for me it wouldn't work unless I moved away, went on a sabbatical or totally unplugged. My people often communicate with me via text or net. I do agree (and like) the word infobesity.
    My recent post Floyd’sSecondChance

    • For similar reasons, a lot of people couldn't Bill, nor should they for that matter. I'm a firm believer than solutions for almost every challenge while holding the same core structure for balance will be unique for every person. We can get ideas from and be inspired by one another, but in no way should we expect to have the exact same solution as anyone else. It fits will approaching a healthy lifestyle, worship, work, etc., and it definitely fits here. Could I do what Dan is doing? Yes. Should I based on my goals, focuses, etc? No. But, my simplicity approach will have some elements of what Dan is doing in it as well as what you're doing. That's my balance. What's yours?

  5. I look forward to your post on capturing/filtering thoughts.
    When I have info overload I tend to be scattered and overwhelmed. I lack joy in what I'm doing. A task gains more importance than it should.
    people, not projects matter. When my focus shifts from people and onto a project/goal then I know I need to take a step back. Get grounded with God and have Him prioritize my day.

  6. Haha, I've never heard the word "infobesity" before. That's very funny! I think one problem with that is that we just keep taking it in and don't take as much time to think about it, go to God to see what He thinks about it, and then draw our own conclusions. We just do what everyone tells us to do! I guess that's kind of what the people you quoted said. I agree!
    My recent post Devotion: Planners, Spontaneous People, and God

    • Exactly the point, Barb. We take in and never DO anything with what we take in. We let it DO whatever to our inner lives, leaving us obese in our ability to think. Your points for solutions hit on what I hope to get at in the next couple of posts. Looking forward to hearing what you think on them.

      • I couldn’t agree more about geciatrirs. I miss sitting with some of the elderly individuals I used to help and they would tell me stories for hours about the things that they witness when they were younger, and the lives that they lived up to the point that they needed care. I have always felt that the elderly know how to live their lives better than anyone, and they for sure never take it for granted! Sometimes the people taking care of them are not good people though, and it always breaks my heart to see someone talking badly to an elderly man or woman.I like how you made a switch from little tiny babies that have no real experience with life, to elderly men and women who have lived life to its fullest and still have more life to share with others. Such opposites!

  7. I am so much better of cutting off information when I am full up then I was when I was young. But then again my young mind was not as full either. My friends marvel at me because I don't feel the need to have my cell phone on me at all times. Because I have lived half way around the world in a very undeveloped country I had to trust God to get ahold of me when needed. If He can give me what I need without much to work with, He can certainly do it here in good old USA. I don't really need any new information or for that matter new truth, I have enough to last the rest of my lifetime, I just need the time to use what I have. And that time only comes when I say no to anything new. Since I am not trying to impress anyone with my knowledge it's easier to say no to more. Looking forward Kari to the next post on this subject. I can tell you are growing in your knowledge and understanding of what you need and not what the world says you need. We will benefit from these truths you are developing. Good for you girl…
    My recent post Early Morning

    • Thanks, Betty. Experience does teach us so much about this, doesn't it? I'm learning to learn from others experience more than my own. At least try to anyway.

  8. I find – surprisingly – that I disagree with something here: "To a great extent, we cannot control how much information comes our way nor how much we have to use technology."

    You can put the smart phone into airplane mode or turn the ringer off, and ignore the text messages. I do it all the time as a defense mechanism. Even though my field is web design/development, my background as a rehab counselor (and as a recovering addict/alcoholic) informs my decisions on technology and information overload. I choose not to watch TV – any TV – instead preferring movies at my choice of time. With our DVR, I *could* easily choose to get hooked into any one of a number of different shows, but I'd rather not watch my ability to think be reduced to the lowest common denominator of jokes and enemy formation.

    God gave us the ability to think – *we* have to choose to do so, on a minute by minute basis sometimes, if we don't want to be overwhelmed by the "drinking from a firehose" condition of living in an always-on, 24/7/365 world. In its own way? It can set us up for the same sort of responses that primitive man had – always afraid, always on guard.
    My recent post Story of Sin and Grace

    • Glad to know I surprised you at least once, Rick. I agree with what you said in that we can turn off a lot of what we have and keep out a lot of the information. However, I guess I was getting at the fact that you have to pretty much live a hermit existence to not be affected by constantly changing technology and not to receive any new information to deal with every day. Maybe "to some extent" would have been better.

      • Kari, trust me on this – you'll surprise me often (and, mostly, they will be good, thought-provoking surprises). I don't advocate anyone giving up the use of modern technology; I simply believe that either it will master us or we must learn to master it, and *that* means making some choices that other folks who are caught up in the cultural context might find alien, or old-fashioned. Done for the right reasons, shutting down and walking away can be a step towards sanity.

        Viewed another way – we have access to nearly all of man's store of knowledge via the network, with very few things safely hidden from view. What use we make of it, in many cases, is not terribly different (in my mind, at least) than a litterbug taking a roadside trashcan or more into the back of a van, then rolling down the highway while tossing the contents out the windows. A cursory examination of that which is tossed will show pictures of cuteness (whether kittens or grandchildren matters not), opinion pieces about our political/moral/social leadership or failures (depending on the opinion of the writer), and most of these amputated into small chunks because we don't have the ability to edit, to restrain, to not *add* to the flow – I've just described most of Facebook's daily content stream. Twitter? Get your idea across in 140 characters or less. Really? Tell that to Hemingway, or Dickens, or (to move into newer authors) King or Clancy.

        What we give our attention to will show in our life as a whole – something you address quite nicely. I'm looking forward to more 🙂
        My recent post Story of Sin and Grace

        • So true… either master it or it will master us AND what we give our attention to will show our life as a whole. In other words, we have to be deliberate, and we have to choose our focus. The decisions we make in those areas determines our reality. I don't advocate a total giving up of modern technology either, but I am a proponent of balance in every area of life. I also believe balance is unique to every person. So, we must find our own normal and our own balance, and we must understand that those change with the seasons of life. Great additional thoughts, Rick.

  9. This is quite a problem we've brought on ourselves. At times in the past, I have found myself stressed out because I couldn't keep up with all of the content I desired to read and listen to. From blogs, magazines, books, podcasts, and social media, I finally came to the realization that I couldn't fit it all into my life. I finally decided that it's okay if I don't listen to every episode of all the podcasts I love or if I don't have time to read every single blog post I've subscribed to. Life will go on.

    The worst symptom I have experienced from information overload is lack of creativity. By devouring too much information at one time, I hadn't given myself enough room to reflect upon it.

    • Yes it is, and me too. The perfectionist in me created an intense feeling of overload, and I crashed and burned. I've also learned that I don't have to listen to and read everything, even from those I especially want to support and encourage. They understand, and I'm sure they appreciate my reciprocation of that sentiment. Loss of creativity is a big one for sure. As I learn to balance the information I take in, my creativity definitely stays at optimum level. Great point, Chris!

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