Albert Anani-Bossman’s thoughts: Information overload in the digital age


one of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digestthe abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought forth into theworld, Barnaby Rich.

The above quote was made in 1613, a period when books would be rare and mostly reserved for the privileged in society. But it served to highlights at the time to internalise the amount of information that was produced and disseminated during that period.  Skip to the present digital environment and the situation is ever more present and across a much larger group of people

We live in an era where information is produced in abundance on a daily basis. Every year, scholars produce hundreds of books worldwide to compliment what already exists. The development of  communication tools and networks, including those based on the internet, has added a new dimension to the issue of information generation, leading to information overload. Information overload refers to the causes, consequences and solutions to situations in which excessive amount of information prevents people, organisations, and societies from taking the most appropriate decisions. Information has become more accessible due to the increasing growth of communication networks. In fact, the amount of information that is exchanged daily  through technologies such as social networks, emails etc.,  has made decision making much more difficult. One cannot begin to imagine the sheer volume of information that is exchanged between people, on their organisational, social or individual roles.  Information that people receive now exceed their capacity to manage them.

However, Information overload can cause problems for the individual, organisation and society.  Too much information can lead to indecision, which can cause a meltdown in productivity. Facing great volumes of information, from different communication networks, may cause constraints in the personal and professional lives of individuals. Research shows that information overload, and resulting productivity meltdown, is becoming serious problems for workers and their employers.

From workers, to students, educationist etc., everyone is caught up in the entanglement  with seemingly no way out.  we are confronted with  unprecedented amount of information, and each of us generates more information every day. The amount of information we consume and generate keeps increasing daily thanks to communication networks that surrounds us. Getting information from the internet now is like taking a drink from a waterfall. Neuroscientist  say that although the brain has the ability to process the information we take in, it does so at a cost. We are likely to have problems determining the important things from the non-essentials if we process in too much information. This results in tiredness and  mental exhaustion, that is, stress. When we are stressed, we become inefficient and unproductive. Every status we read on social media, every text we receive from colleagues, is competing for resources in our brain with important things like the meeting we are supposed to attend, the document we are to work on, where we left our car keys, where to invest etc.  The capacity of the brain to process information has been estimated to be 120 bits per second. What this means is that we can only process one information at a time, which makes the idea of multitasking very difficult.  Today’s knowledge workers are frequently interrupted and so consumed with multitasking that they have no time to think. It thus takes longer to finish one task due to the divided attention.

Attention is the most important mental resource for any organism. It helps us to  determine which aspects of things to deal with and how to make the right choice. When the brain is overloaded with information, the ability to focus reduces. This can explain why we sometimes lose  focus during meetings or when we are having discussions with other people.  Everyone, from students to educators, workers, parents, and employers can  resonate with the erosion of attention in an age of information overload.

As the world advances, information networks will increase, several things will continue to compete for our attention.  We will often find ourselves distracted and unable to concentrate. How do we then do we deal the loss of attention brought about by overload?

In a knowledge economy where overload and instant simulation is the order of the day, we need to strengthen our skills of focus and perception. We need to emphasis strongly on face to face communication instead of high-tech communication.  Whether it’s at work or during  leisure time, putting technology on the backburner for a while will go a long way to help us to focus. What we need is self-discipline  to help  us solve the attention conundrum.  Being self-disciplined means making the conscious effort to keep those things that distract us at bay for a time. When it comes to online information, it is better to narrow your searches online or better still, stick to the sources you know are trustworthy. We also need to filter the information we receive and pick the relevant ones in order not to be overwhelmed with information.  However, this is not easy if you do not know exactly what you are looking for.  In the workplace, for instance,  some superiors  don’t know how to function as gatekeepers, so they pass along any information they receive to their subordinates without filtering information that is not useful for their subordinates. Eventually, subordinates can become so overwhelmed with the number of messages that  they are receiving that they spend much of their work day simply sifting through information, which decreases their ability to be productive.

While technology, in itself, is not bad, we need to stay focused if we want to be effective.  We all need to mentally recharge to be out our best from time to time. We can find a balance between our work lives, with its constant technological demands, and the world around us if we make that deliberate effort. We cannot control  the information that we are bombarded with daily, but we can control what we consume.

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