In today’s guide you will learn about information overload, which is without a doubt one of the biggest challenges of our time. You’ll discover 5 big ways information overload can (and does) do you more harm than good, as well as tips on what you can do to get started on dealing with the challenge of being exposed to too much information (an audio version is available here).
Keep reading to learn more.
Too much of anything is bad
Technology has made our lives easier, especially the internet. There’s no doubt about what an incredible invention the internet is. It has put at our fingertips all that we need and want to know, and more.
However, the internet can be a double edged sword because even though having an immense amount of information at our fingertips is very useful, it also comes at a price – and a big one at that. It just proves right the old adage, the one about too much of anything being bad. That’s as accurate an assessment of our current situation as any because we are practically swimming in a sea of information these days and that’s not always a good thing.
In fact, most of the time it is not a good thing.
Now, you might be wondering: surely having a world of information at our fingertips is a good thing, right?
You might initially think so, but it really is not very good for you, especially when you keep getting bombarded by it.
Here are five big reasons why it is not a good thing:
- Information overload causes overwhelm
- It causes stress
- It causes confusion
- It causes distraction
- It causes unhappiness
Let’s now look into each of them in more detail.
Think about your typical day – if you are like most people you very likely start your day by checking the news, social media and your email.
This is not the end of it though, as you’ll very likely repeat this cycle several times throughout the day until you finally go to sleep.
All that information that you take in, it has an impact on your mental energy level and not a positive one. All that information causes overwhelm, and is why you often feel mentally exhausted even just halfway through the day.
The negative impact that the deluge of information that you are exposed to on a daily basis causes isn’t just limited to overwhelm. There are other negative impacts too, and a big one is stress.
When you have too much information to process it is normal to feel stressed because of it. And then there’s also the exposure effect to negative and clickbaity stuff that media, especially social media is full of – they are a major source of stress and the more you are exposed to stuff like that the more stress they cause.
On top of those there’s also the impact of social media exposure and the feeling of inadequacy that it often results in.
However you look at it, the more information you are exposed to the higher usually your stress level will be, and it is largely down to the fact that the information most people are exposed to isn’t really designed to benefit them, but rather benefit commercial interests. So the more information you are exposed to the higher usually your stress level will be.
Conversely, cutting down your exposure to information can have a tangible positive impact on your stress and mental health.
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You’ve learned how information overload causes overwhelm and stress. One other really common impact of this information rabbit hole is the confusion it can result in. The current pandemic is a great example of this.
There is a huge amount of information out there now about the dos and don’ts of Coronavirus safety. Unfortunately, not all of it is designed to help you. There’s a lot of fake news out there about the reality of the pandemic, which can and does cause a lot of confusion.
The thing to really note here is that confusion is one of the most common side effects of information overload, and the easiest way to avoid that is to be picky about what information you expose yourself to, as well as limiting your overall exposure.
By the way, this advice applies to all the negative impacts of information overload, two more of which you’ll learn about next.
Causes distraction (and procrastination)
The fourth negative side effect of information overload on my list is distraction, and it is a big one. Do you know the average number of time a person does something on their phone in a day? It’s around 2,617 times based on a research by King Online university.
Sounds insane doesn’t it!
But that’s not all – a study at Penn State University found that on average a person uses some form of gadget (which includes your smartphone), for more than 10.5 hours a day. It all adds up.
You might not realise just how often you use your phone until you actually keep a tally, because the small actions that you think are insignificant adds up over time!
All these small interruptions have a major impact on your focus and productivity, so an easy way to improve your effectiveness is to cut down on such small distractions.
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The last negative impact on the list is unhappiness, and it is by far the biggest reason to avoid information overload. Let’s face it, no one intentionally wants to choose unhappiness but unfortunately carrying on with your usual daily practice is leading to exactly that.
It’s easy to feel more negative and unhappy when you are overwhelmed, confused and stressed. Let me phrase that in a different way: it’s harder to be happy when you are stressed, overwhelmed and/or confused.
The longer those states last (the state of stress, overwhelm, confusion), the more negativity you experience.
An easy way to improve your level of happiness, then, is to reduce the amount of information you expose yourself to.
The future of information overload
New technologies like big data and AI are a direct result of this overwhelm, and computers are being used now to sift through this veritable sea of information that is being created each and every day.
Each and every minute, every second even, creates more information. There is so much information these days that it is humanly impossible to sift through all that, and we need machines and algorithms now to help us with this.
But the good thing is that we don’t even need all the information that we expose ourselves to on a regular basis. In fact, most of the information that we expose ourselves to is completely pointless, and often harmful. As such, it is smart to be careful about the information you take in.
There used to be a time when finding enough information was a challenge – I still remember the days when I needed to go to different libraries and spend hours finding the relevant information. But that’s not an issue anymore. Now we have the opposite problem, we have so much information now that we are literally drowning in it! The World Economic Forum has a interesting article on this, and based on that here are some interesting stats about our current daily ocean of information:
- 4 petabytes of Facebook data is created every day. That’s 4 million gigabytes of data just created on Facebook alone.
- 294 billion emails are sent every day
- 500 million tweets
- 65 billion Whatsapp messages
- 5 billion searches are made every day
You have to admit, that is a LOT of information.
No wonder it causes overwhelm.
All this might seem incredible (and it is), but the rate of information creation keeps on increasing. It’s predicted that by 2025, so much information will be created on a daily basis that they can fill around 213 million (212,765,957) DVDs every day. Just imagine that for a second – 213 million DVDs each and every day. We probably will need stadium sized storage to store all that and even then it might not be enough.
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From whatever point of view you look at it, be it personal or professional, information overwhelm is not good for you. Neither does it do you good professionally, nor does it have a positive impact on your personal life and wellbeing. If anything, it does quite the opposite: it harms you both professionally and personally.
Knowledge is power, but only if it is relevant and valuable, and even then only if we are mindful about our exposure and consumption. Because just having more information does not help, but it can harm.
Here’s the bottomline: it’s important to be more mindful about the information you expose your mind to, because too much of it does you more harm than good.
Cut down your information exposure to improve your life.
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