Information Overload

Information Overload

Tibor Koltay
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3473-1.ch124
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Information overload (IO) appears in varied information-intensive spheres and everyday environments. This chapter defines its nature and types, outlines its history and names its diverse sources. It is underlined that IO is caused by a mix of factors. Measures and tools of preventing the occurrence of information overload and mitigating its symptoms can be technological by using the capabilities of information architecture. The repertoire of social approaches is much broader, because it includes practicing information literacy, engaging in data literacy, applying critical assessment, slow information behavior and Personal Information Management tools.
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Background: The Concept Of Information Overload

Information overload can be defined as a state in which not all inputs can be processed and utilized for varied reasons (Nelson, 1994). In other words, it occurs when potentially useful information received by someone becomes a hindrance (Bawden & Robinson, 2009), be it persons or organizations (Jackson & Farzaneh, 2012). Appearing in academia, the business word and everyday life, it affects both individuals and systems (Nelson, 1994). Information overload situations appear in activities, related to information retrieval and the organization of information, in decision and communication processes (Eppler & Mengis, 2004).

The main factors of IO are the following ones:

  • The volume of information supply (the quantity of information);

  • Information processing capacity;

  • Information-processing requirements;

  • Time requirements for processing information (available versus invested time);

  • Subjective (personal) factors.

Some definitions also mention dysfunctional consequences of being overloaded that may be qualified as symptoms (effects), which are mainly related to the loss of control over information, frequently leading to suboptimal decisions, and higher time requirements for information handling, causing time delays (Eppler & Mengis, 2004). It is also associated with the feeling of being overwhelmed. In some cases, these effects can lead to a loss of job satisfaction and even damages to personal relationships or someone’s own health (Bawden & Robinson, 2009). Results of an empirical examination show that the perception of IO exist among varied age groups (Benselin & Ragsdell, 2016).

However, though paradoxically, information overload can provide satisfaction, because mastering it gives to many people the feeling that they are in control of something (David Johnson, 2014).


The History Of Information Overload

While complaints about an overabundance of books date back at least as far as the sixteenth century, Ecclesiastes, one of books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) originally written c. 450-180 BCE, might be the first writing to comment on the “proliferation of information as a detriment to effectiveness and efficiency” (Bawden & Robinson, 2009, p. 183).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information Overload: A set of subjective and objective difficulties, mainly originating in the amount and complexity of information available and people’s inability to handle such situations.

Critical Assessment: A critical approach towards information that comprises critical thinking about information and critical reading of it.

Information architecture: Concentrates on helping information users in effectively fulfilling their information needs by creating ways that make content findable and usable.

Personal Information Management: A set of skills, coupled with analogue and digital tools, applicable for collecting and maintaining a personal collection of documents, produced either by the given person or acquired from other sources.

Information Literacy: A set of skills and abilities that concerns all kinds of media and enables recognizing information need, finding the needed information, critically evaluating and using it for different purposes.

Slow Information Behavior: A reflective and critical way of choosing the appropriate speed of consuming and producing information.

Data Literacy: A set of skills and abilities based on information literacy, designed to assess critically and handle all kinds of data, but focusing on research data.

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