Since the beginning of the internet, the volume of information has been growing exponentially. Without even realizing it, we are pumping out unbelievable amounts of data onto the web every day. By “unbelievable” here we mean around 2.5 quintillion bytes—that’s a 1 with 18 zeros after it. If you have hard time grasping how much that is, you’re far from alone.
Let’s translate this impossible-to-imagine number into something we all understand. There are so many HD movies on the web today you would need 47 million years to watch them all. There are over 1.8 billion websites out there, and on average 571 new ones are created every minute. That’s how much data we’ve generated. It’s no wonder that information overload has become the problem.
The large volume of information is not a problem per se. The real problems are the lack of information-quality control on the one hand, and our inability to control the flow of incoming information on the other. Given the situation, it is not surprising that some of us suffer from information overload and feel an urgent need for an information detox.
What Is Information Overload?
Information overload is something you’ve likely felt or dealt with at least once. It is the feeling you get when, after hours of searching the web, you realize there’s so much data in your head that you can no longer think clearly.
Information overload has many alternative names—“infoxication”, “infobesity”, and data smog. No matter the name, the meaning stays the same.
Information overload is the state of feeling overwhelmed by the volume of information to the point at which one feels more confused than knowledgeable about a particular topic. Information overload can manifest itself as brain fog and difficulty making decisions.
In general, information overload is the kind of stress you feel when you consume more information than you can “digest” (and more than it is needed to make a decision).
The Dangers Of Information Overconsumption
Theoretically, having so much information at our fingertips should be a good thing. It should help us make informed and smart choices. In reality, it seems to do more harm than good.
The statistics are interesting: 1 in 5 Americans admit feeling overloaded by information. It may not seem like it, but this means that around 20% of your co-workers are operating in a mental fog.
Whether you realize it or not, consuming too much information affects you in many different ways. Below are some of them:
Information overload leads to cognitive overload (and brain fog).
There is only a certain amount of information a human brain can process at one time. When we surpass that limit, symptoms of cognitive overload occur. We start to feel irritated, we are no longer able to think clearly, and even a minor decision may feel like a huge ordeal.
Decision-making becomes a real challenge.
Consuming large volumes of information tires our mind. Making decision is an energy-consuming process. When your brain is tired from processing too much information at one time, the last thing it needs is another energy-consuming process like decision-making. That’s why even minor decisions such as which color t-shirt to pick or what sort of tea to buy can feel so challenging when you’re overloaded with information.
Your willpower reservoir gets depleted, too.
When you’re overloaded with information, it is not just your ability to make decisions that suffers. Since your willpower uses the same energy stores as decision-making, your ability to stay motivated and productive can be impaired when there is too much information in your head.
Information overdose may trigger anxiety.
Scientists call it “information anxiety.” Simply put, it is the feeling we get as a result of being unable to interpret large volumes of data or find that particular piece of information we are looking for. Apart from information anxiety, which is very specific, information overdose can also aggravate anxiety one is already feeling. If we take information overload for what it is– a source of stress–it all starts to make sense.
Overload of information makes it harder to focus.
According to experts, information overload takes a toll on concentration and focus. When there is more information in our head than we can effectively process, our brain starts to rush from one idea to another. Think of it as a form of mental multitasking that makes your brain jump from one thought to another. As you might have guessed, this state of mind does nothing to help with focus and concentration.
Critical thinking skills become impaired.
If you consume way too much information, it becomes harder to distinguish between high-quality and poor-quality content. The outcomes can be dramatic. If you stop questioning the trustworthiness of information you consume, it becomes a lot easier to be manipulated. Things like fake news, phishing, and scams flourish exactly for that reason—because we forget to think critically at precisely the time that doing so is most important.
How To Deal With Information Overload?
The symptoms of information overload are not fun. Irritability, brain fog, anxiety, emotional fatigue — the list can go on and on. Let’s see what you can do to sooth the unpleasant symptoms and get back your clarity of mind.
Unplug for at least a few hours.
The worst you can do when overloaded with information is to try to put more information inside your head. This applies to all information, including funny posts on Facebook or pictures of cute puppies on Instagram. This kind of information might be easier for your brain to digest, but you’ll do much better by going offline altogether. Consider it a short-term information detox.
Take a walk outside, get engaged with real life.
The best way to clear your mind is to take some time outside. This could be anything from a short walk in a park to hiking to exploring a neighborhood you’ve never been to. You have only one rule to follow: no social networks, no emails, no push notifications. Just you and the real world around.
Take a break from your information hunt and, once you’re back, filter all the clutter.
No matter what you’ve been searching for, chances are high that you’ve collected at least some poorly-sourced information. Take time to review it with fresh eyes and filter out the unhelpful content.
Kindly remind yourself that you can’t read/process/analyze it all.
For nearly any topic or question, Google will give you more answers that you can possibly grasp. Keep this in mind and know when it’s time to stop. Unless you are an expert in a given field, reading around 3-5 high-quality pieces of material on a topic should be just enough.
Information Overload: Summary
Our brains are not trays at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Just like we should care about what and how much we eat, we should pay attention to the quantity and quality of the information we consume.
Remember that what junk food does to our bodies is not much different to what junk content does to our minds. And with such amount of information readily available to us at any given moment, it’s important to mindful of when our brains are full and need a chance to digest.