YourVersion Blog

Is Information Overload Destroying Our Productivity?

Posted by raj on December 31st, 2009.

Flickr credit: SparkCBC [used by CC license]

Flickr credit: SparkCBC (used by CC license)

How much time do you spend online? Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to consume to find what you want? How have you dealt with the resulting information overload? Has it affected your work productivity?

Unfortunately, we’re being turned into infosumers (information consumers) in greater numbers, whether we like it or not. When writer/ futurist Alvin Toffler coined the term information overload in his early 1970s book Future Shock, he may not have had any idea of how many consumers would turn into infosumers, and to what degree — whether for work, research or pleasure. Information overload, aka “info overload”, is a type of sensory overload. In this case, it refers to being overwhelmed by the amount of information that someone has to (or feels they need to) absorb.

While some people don’t care about info overload, it’s a very real problem. In fact, a 2005 article by New Scientist suggests that information overload affects concentration more than marijuana use [article excerpt only]. Loss in concentration, especially in the workplace, means loss in productivity and costs businesses money. Productivity loss could be as much as eight hours/week per worker, according to a Canadian newspaper, the Montreal Gazette [print only]. A 2008 report by Basex claimed that American companies lost about $650B/year in worker productivity due to information overload.

The problem is that we’re not getting away from the “fire hydrant” of information, we’re being exposed to more streams. A new study (PDF, 37 pgs)] by UCSD’s (University of California, San Diego) GIIC (Global Information Industry Center) found that Americans are consuming around 34GB (Gigabytes) of information daily, and that’s just during our casual time. While the surprising find is that much of this information is still consumed via TV and radio, the Internet is also contributing to info overload, thanks to the mass of easily accessible information. [Additional discussion on the UCSD report: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.]

One calculation suggests that only 8-9% of the 34GB/day of information intake is actual news. Important to note is that this 34GB/day figure applies to Americans in 2008. What about the increased role that technology is playing in American households, and the increased time being spent online this year? What about when we factor in the increased use of IM/chat, Social Media (Twitter, Facebook), Flickr, YouTube and other web services? What about the increasing number of consumers, young and old, who will use always-connected (to the Internet) netbooks or smartphones (such as the Apple iPhone) in 2010 and beyond? What about the increasing push towards “real-time web” information, where search engines, real-time web discovery sites and other related web services give you access to content from various sources (news, blogs, social media) as it gets created?

Managing Information Overload

Whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready and know how to manage the infostreams, information quantity will increase. If you’re a “knowledge worker” (someone who works extensively with information, on a daily basis), you’re even more susceptible to info overload. So what is the solution? How do we manage the mass flow of information? Author/ professor Clay Shirky suggests that the problem isn’t information overload but filter failure [text & video].

Much of info overload can be managed or even eliminated by using a more efficient means of filtering information channels. Using better search techniques, suitable information discovery tools (e.g., such as YourVersion), filtering tools, web agents, and structured idea management tools (e.g., mind maps) will go a long way towards this goal. Technology has only just started to help us filter out the information we don’t want, in an easy to apply manner.

Info overload and how to manage it will be one of the regular topics of discussion on the YourVersion blog. If you have tips or thoughts on managing infostreams and preventing information overload, please feel free to join in on the discussion, whether here in the blog comments, on our Facebook Page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Information Overload

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