The Needle in the Haystack: How Information Overload Is Impacting Society and Our Search for Truth

The Needle in the Haystack: How Information Overload Is Impacting Society and Our Search for Truth

Dana Tessier (Independent Researcher, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2543-2.ch002

Abstract

Since the invention of the printing press, individuals have created and shared more information at increasing rates, and this has further accelerated with the proliferation of information technology and the increase in Internet accessibility. Humans' ability to absorb and process information has not evolved alongside the speed at which information can be created and shared. This chapter examines what impact this abundance of information has had on society and its ability to process, examine, and retain information. The relationship between information overload and society's ability to discern the veracity of information is discussed. The author makes recommendations for how individuals and organizations can harness their information overload and continue to discern fact from fiction and create a more truthful world.
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Introduction

In a post-truth world, information is being exchanged at a greater rate and in greater quantities than in previous generations. It is estimated that we now have access to five times more information than we did in 1986 (Hilbert & Lopez, 2011). This increase in information sharing is impacting individuals in both their personal and professional lives, across domains from academia to private sector organizations. While having an increase of information at our disposal can be a strength in our society, it can also be a burden; individuals and organizations can experience difficulty absorbing this proliferation of content, which, in turn, can lead to experiencing information overload. Information overload is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “exposure to or provision of too much information or data.” Information overload is something an individual or organization experiences, and therefore it is a subjective experience based on the individual or organization’s preferences. Information overload feels like a modern phenomenon, however, there have always been historical concerns regarding the quantity of information available to the world. Today, information overload has been exacerbated by the increase and exponential impact of information technology. In a review of worldwide Google Trends, the word “information overload” reached peak popularity in early 2004, shortly after Google trending began, followed by another peak in October 2005. Subsequently, the term decreased in overall popularity but has never completely faded away; it has remained around a score of 25 for the past few years, demonstrating constant concern about information overload in the modern world (Figure 1). When people receive more information than can be absorbed, a multitude of different consequences occur; this overload negatively impacts productivity, decision-making, and progress, and causes anxiety, stress, and despondency. Information overload can also trigger a degradation of clear thinking which, in turn, further impacts our ability to absorb information, retain it, and pass on accurate information. The production and reproduction of information has long caused concerns about its accuracy, its truth, and its inherent value. In this chapter, the author will discuss the history of information overload, the impacts of information overload on our society, and some suggestions as to what can be done to tackle information overload in an attempt to preserve truth, accuracy, and our ability to interpret information.

Figure 1.

Google Trend for the search term ‘information overload’ from 2004 to present

978-1-7998-2543-2.ch002.f01
Source: (Google 2014-Present)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information Literacy: The ability to investigate information, locate new information, and think critically about the information source and how that might impact what information is being conveyed.

Knowledge Management: The ability to identify, store, share, and make knowledge discoverable within an organization.

Information Overload: The experience of being inundated with an excess of information.

Crowdsourcing: Gathering input and information from a large number of volunteers in order to produce reference material or achieve an outcome. Examples of crowdsourcing: Wikipedia, IMDB, and Amber Alerts.

Information: Text, images, and/or sound conveyed to create meaning, a message, or facts. Examples of information: a book, an article, and a Facebook post.

Metadata: Attributes that make different pieces of data identifiable and can be used to organize the data.

Information Technology: The use of electronic systems to create, store, and share information. Examples of information technology: a computer, a smartphone, and email software.

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