Information overload

Information overload

Information overload refers to excess amounts of information being provided, making the processing and absorbing tasks very difficult for the individual because we cannot see the validity behind the information (Yang, 2003 [Yang, C.C. (2003) Decision Support Systems. Amsterdam. April 2003. Volume 35, Issue 1, p89. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008).] ).As the world moves into a new era of globalization, an increasing number of people are logging onto the internet to conduct their own research (Internet World, 2008) [] [Internet World Stats (2008)INTERNET USAGE STATISTICSThe Internet Big Picture - World Internet Users and Population Stats 2000-2008. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008).] and are given the ability to produce as well as consume the data accessed on an increasing number of websites (Bonfield, 2007 [Bonfield, B. (2007)Consuming Information Library Journal, New York: Oct 15th 2007, Volume 137, Issue 17, p26 (1 page). URL: (accessed on 5th september 2008).] ; Russo & Watkins, 2005 [Russo, A. & Watkins, J. (2005) Intenational Journal of Education and Development using Information and communication technology, Bridgetown: Dec 2005, Volume 1, Issue 4, p4 (14 pages). URL: (accessed on 5th September).] ). As of February 2007 there were over 108 million distinct websites and increasing (Boutell, 2007) [] [Boutell (2007) 'WWW FAQS: How many web sites are there?' URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008).] Users’ are now classified as active users (Benbunan-Fich & Koufaris, 2008 [Benbunan-Fich, R. & Koufaris, M. (2008) Electronic Markets, London: May 2008, Volume 18, Issue 2, p150. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008)] ) because more people in society are participating in the Digital and Information Age (Jones, 1993 [Jones, B. (1993), "An Age of Discontinuity", in Sleepers Wake! Technology and the Future of Work, 3rd Ed., Melbourne, Oxford University Press, pp. 11-45] ). More and more people are considered to be active writers and viewers because of their participation (Jenkins, 2006 [Jenkins, H. (2006) Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, New York University Press] ). This flow has created a new life where we are now dependant on access to information (Cheng & Vassileva, 2006 [Cheng, R & Vassileva (2006) Design and Evaluation of an adoptive incentive mecahanism for sustained educational online communities, User modelling and user-adapted interaction. Dordrecht. Sep 2006, Volume 16, Issue 3-4, p321. URL: (accessed on 5th September 2008)] ; Baxter, 2008 [Baxter, A. (2008) Better interactivity benefits student faculty, Financial Times, London (UK) March 17th 2008, p4 URL: (accessed 27th August 2008] ). Therefore we see an information overload from the access to so much information, almost instataneously, without knowing the validity of the content and the risk of misinformation (Flew, 2008 [Flew, T. (2008) New Media: An Indroduction, Third Edition, Oxford University Press: Australia] ; Graham, 1999 [Graham, G (1999) The Internet: A Philosophical Inquiry, Rotledge: London] ).

People nowadays are logging in to the net not only to surf or browse but to donate or share a piece of information. According to Sohora Jha, journalists are using the web to conduct their research, getting information regarding interviewing sources and press releases, updating news online, and thus it shows the gradual shifts in attitudes because of the rapid increase in the Internet. [Sonora Jha, 2007, Social Movements, The Internet and The Press, Journalism and Mass Communication Quaterly-New Media, Volume 84, No.1, pg 42]

As a result, there is a downfall or a negative impact within this issue (Centaur Communications Limited, 2006 [Centaur Communications Limited (2006) Data Retention: Information Overload. New Media Age. London: March 16th 2006, p25. URL: (accessed on 27th August 2008).] ). Together with the amount of information being produced from various people on the net, the problem of Information Overload arises. The implication arises from the psychological field, society and individual (Schick & Haka, 1990 [Schick, A.G. & Haka, S. (1990) Accounting, organizations and society, Oxford, Volume 15, Issue 3, p199 (22 pages) URL: (accessed on 27th August 2008).] ).

Definition from other Sources

According to Steve Beller, “I’m defining information overload as a state of having more information available that one can readily assimilate, that is, people have difficulty absorbing the information into their base of knowledge. This hinders decision-making and judgment by causing stress and cognitive impediments such as confusion, uncertainty and distraction” [, “Information Overload and Health Decision-Making Part 1”, Saturday September 11, 2006]

-“A symptom of the high-tech age, which is too much for one human being to absorb in an expanding world of people and technology. It comes from all sources including TV, newspapers, magazines as well as wanted and unwanted regular e-mail and faxes. It has been exacerbated enormously because of the formidable number of results obtained from web search engines.” [, The Independence Guide to Technology]

General causes

The general causes of information overload include:
* A rapidly increasing rate of new information being produced
* The ease of duplication and transmission of data across the Internet
* An increase in the available channels of incoming information (e.g. telephone, e-mail, instant messaging, rss)
* Large amounts of historical information to dig through
* Contradictions and inaccuracies in available information
* A low signal-to-noise ratio
* A lack of a method for comparing and processing different kinds of information

E-mail remains a major source of information overload, as people struggle to keep up with the rate of incoming messages. As well as filtering out unsolicited commercial messages (spam), users also have to contend with the growing use of e-mail attachments in the form of lengthy reports, presentations and media files.

A December 2007 New York Times blog post described E-mail as "a $650 Billion Drag on the Economy" [Cite web|url=|title= Is Information Overload a $650 Billion Drag on the Economy?| date=2007-12-20| publisher= New York Times] , and the New York Times reported in April 2008 that "E-MAIL has become the bane of some people’s professional lives" due to information overload, yet "none of [the current wave of high-profile Internet startups focused on email] really eliminates the problem of e-mail overload because none helps us prepare replies". [Cite web|url=|title= Struggling to Evade the E-Mail Tsunami| date=2008-04-20| publisher= New York Times]

Technology investors reflect similar concerns. [Cite web|url=|title= Did Darwin Skip Over Email?| date=2008-04-28| publisher= Foundry Group]

In addition to e-mail, the World Wide Web has provided access to billions of pages of information. In many offices, workers are given unrestricted access to the Web, allowing them to manage their own research. The use of search engines helps users to find information quickly. However, information published online may not always be reliable, due to the lack of authority-approval or a compulsory accuracy check before publication. This results in people having to cross-check what they read before using it for decision-making, which takes up more time.

Analysis of General Causes

1). New Information-New information is being produced day by day. When there are latest gossips, or latest advertisements, latest phone models, news concerning fashion and top models, news regarding the politic and economic environment of a country, or celebrity scandals, almost everybody reports it on their journals, blogs and websites and publish them on net. Information is being shaped rapidly as everything happens in the world today becomes a topic and subject where people pond and discuss upon. In this way, there is mass production of information in the Internet and it is hard to verify the credibility or whether the article is high in validation. This creates misconception on certain issues and thus creates a world of uncertainty and doubt.

2. Increase on the available channels- Since there is an increase of information, more and more channels are broadcasted in order to published news and reports to public and society. Channels like BBC and CNN are examples of channels that provide information and sources to the public and the world. But the question is how far are they providing us the information? There are certain issues which are not discussed in channels as they are entirely based on the government policy implemented on to the mass media. Information channels like these only gives out information depending on the policy and regulations. That’s when the active users’ writes and reports it out in their sites and people tend to rely on online information rather than broadcasting news channel. Other than that, further channels continue to increase like YouTube and within the cyberspace. Alongside with the increase of information being produced in various different channels, people are able to speak up and construct their own system of points and views. However, this contributes to the intervening of information. As the number of channels and information grows, people no longer know which information to rely, depend and trust anymore. Information seems to contradict each other and there is no way to find out the right and wrong data as everybody has different responses and varieties of information.

3. Historical Information- In this era, users’ are capable of surfing the net effortlessly and discover information on the subject of history which occurred centuries ago. History can be preserved easily with the rising of the information and digital age. However, some histories are not interpreted accordingly because everybody is able to share and upload information without proper referencing and therefore history becomes a big question mark to how far the details are true? In the following website, it displays wrong and incorrect history being published and it raises comments and dissatisfaction. thread.jspa?threadID=800037818&start=15&mod=1208884789147

4. Contradictions and InaccuraciesAs mentioned in the earlier general causes, information uploaded in the net and sites and the ones being broadcasted are contradicting. For example in this website,, A girl asks a question and random people spring out advices. Clearly, these advices are inaccurate and all of them are contradicting to one another. Consequently, people receive wrong information and this result in a negative impact. There is no one to blame as the cyberspace is wide and it is hard to trace.

Effects and Implications of Information Overload

1. Psychological Effects

As people are faced with growing levels of information overload, the inability to make clear and accurate decisions can increase their hormones.An article in the New Scientist magazine claimed that exposing individuals to an information overloaded environment resulted in lower IQ scores than exposing individuals to marijuana [ [ Info-mania dents IQ more than marijuana] ] , although these results are contested [ [ Language Log: An apology] ] . The same article also notes that a night without sleep can be as debilitating as over-exposure to information.

Part of the problem of information overload can be traced to interruptions in the workplace. Interruptions include incoming e-mail messages, phone calls and instant messaging - all of which break mental focus, and redirect it to the source of the interruption. The person has to deal with the interruption, then redirect their attention back to the original task (Crovitz, 2008 [Crovitz, G.L. (2008) The information age: Unloading Information overload, Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), New York, N.Y. July 7th 2008, pA.11. URL: (accessed on 27th August 2008).] ).

In 2005, research firm " [ Basex] " calculated the cost of unnecessary interruptions and related recovery time at " [,9171,1147136-2,00.html $588 billion] " per annum in the U.S. alone. That figure was updated to " [ $650 billion] " in early 2007.

There are many other negative effects caused by information overload. Alvin Toffler who is a futurologist studied the negative and psychological effects of information overload. According to Toffler, information overload will lead to ‘future shock syndrome’ as an individual will suffer severe physical and mental disturbances. [, Alvin Toffler <1970>, “Individual Effects of Change” in Change and Information Overload: Negative Effects, in Principal Cybernatics Web, F.Heylighen, February 19th 1999]

The world is moving so fast into technology and with the help of information; everything in the world seems to be multiplying which makes people prone to helplessness and inadequacy.

2. Impact on society

Negative- People are provided with wrong information about economics, politics and business. Hence, problems like misunderstanding arise in a society, and this creates havoc and madness. Since information is different, people tend to react differently according to their set of beliefs corroborating with the information available.- For example, if there are blogs or websites discussing about culture and if certain numbers of people are not happy with its contents published, hence a peaceful realm will be shaken into the falls of stones and rocks.

Positive- The increase of information growth provides opportunity for interaction and communication to take place. Individual are able to converse about certain issues with different information hence bringing up a discussion. For example, in, an LMS site is provided in which unit discussions within students takes place. One of the questions that are being asked is, “Is Second Life the New Life”. As we know, students have a range of information and thus, with their own set of knowledge from journals, books and website references, they argue their points out with one another hence improving the students to think critically and beyond the box. In the midst of this discussion, unintentionally interaction and communication takes place. Though it is taking place virtually yet it is achieving one of the main objective in this century. The social interaction enhances communication as the main tool.

3. Impact on IndividualWurman says that an individual will feel a loss of control when there is a huge number of information circulating, and they don’t really distinguish what is missing and therefore miss out on potentially important information. (Wurman,1990), [Francis Heylighen, 2002, Information Overload, Complexity and Information Overload in Society: Why increasing efficiency leads to decreasing control,]

- In this new era of globalization, everything is moving around quickly as the strike of lightning and a blink of an eye. Cultures are changing and new trends are developing. The more you know about something, society regard you as someone witty and smart. An example can be drawn from the very famous Television series, “F.R.I.E.N.D.S”. The character Joey seems to be lost each time the others discuss about a certain topic. Hence, the other characters terms Joey as a dumb character. An in one of the episode, we as the audiences are able to observe how he was upset about it from his reminiscence and thus buys an encyclopedia to gain more information and knowledge but in the end, the other characters discusses something else which they have watched on the Television. It shows how information travels and individuals suffer from depression because not knowing what is happening in today’s world. Information is not only available in books or mass media but it is travelling to the world of cyberspace. Pressure increases as everybody wants to know more. Hence, individuals logs into websites, watches television and reads articles and newspapers just to gather as much facts and data they can to stay in the information age intensity.


1.Response of business and government Many academics, corporate decision-makers, and federal policy-makers recognize the magnitude and growing impact of this phenomenon. In June 2008 a group of interested researchers from a diverse set of corporations, smaller companies, academic institutions and consultancies created the Information Overload Research Group ( [ IORG] ), a non-profit interest group dedicated to raising awareness, sharing research results and promoting the creation of solutions around Information Overload.

Recent research suggests that an "attention economy" of sorts will naturally emerge from information overload, allowing Internet users greater control over their online experience with particular regard to communication mediums such as e-mail and instant messaging. This could involve some sort of cost being attached to e-mail messages. For example, managers charging a small fee for every e-mail received - e.g. $5.00 - which the sender must pay from their budget. The aim of such charging is to force the sender to consider the necessity of the interruption.

2. Media

Media like the internet are conducting research to promote awareness of information overload. In [] , Kyunghye Kim, Mia Liza A. Lustria, Darrell Burke, and Nahyun Kwon conducted a research regarding people who have suffered from information overload and what the result of the disease. The conclusion drawn from the research discusses about healthy information should be distributed and information campaigns should be held to prevent irrelevant or incorrect information being circulated in the world.

Other than that, there are many books published to encourage awareness of Information Overload. Books like “Surviving Information Overload” by Kevin A. Miller and “Managing Information Overload” by Lynn Lively. []

Related terms

A similar term "information pollution" was coined by Jakob Nielsen. The term " [,dwp_uuid=4e612cca-6707-11da-a650-0000779e2340,print=yes.html interruption overload] " has begun to appear in newspapers such as the Financial Times.


Information Overload is something that is evolving in the Web 2.0 and the world today. Though there are some positive levels to this problem yet the disadvantages are in the highest chart. Therefore, society should learn how to manage the system of information overload and provide a better understanding and reasonability.


ee also

*Information explosion
*Glass cockpit

External links

* [ Information Overload Research Group]
* [ Information Pollution]
* [ Understanding Information Overload]
* [ Conceptualizing Information Systems and Cognitive Sustainability in 21st Century 'Attention' Economies (Includes Syllabus)]
* [ The Role of Contextual Clues in the Creation of Information Overload (PDF)]
* [ Information overload, retrieval strategies and Internet user empowerment.]
* [ A Literature Review on Information Overload Studies in Marketing, Organization, MIS, Accounting and related disciplines (PDF)]
* [ The Tyranny of Email]
* [ Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload]
* [ Assessing and Managing Technostress]
* [ Too many anagrams for "Information Overload"]
* [ Tangled Up in Tasks]
* [ Change and Information Overload: negative effects]
* [ Information Overload blog]
* [ Information overload: Is it time for a data diet?]
* [ Information Overload Essay] Information, knowledge and power in contemporary society.

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