Negative Social Consequences of the Information Glut

A Reuters Business Information studied 1,313 junior, middle and senior business managers in the U.S., England, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia. The results of the study showed that 73% of the subjects felt that in order to be successful, they needed to have on hand to enormous amounts of information, and that technology facilitated this information access. Yet at the same time, Reuters found that 67% reported that their work life and personal life suffered due to the stress induced by information overload. More than 50% of the managers were sure that the stressful nature of their work environment would intensify over the next two years due to the continued inundation of information.


On one hand, the Internet has enabled us to make more informed choices, due to the multi-faceted viewpoints presented on various web sites. However, the ability of the Internet to instill understanding is lost once the information seeker's information input exceeds critical mass. A primary example is the use of online polls, interviews, e-mails, and websites to make netizens more informed in national issues, such as voting. Yet the converse is actually true: such a bombardment of knowledge on all sides and the tension of indecision it causes leads many, according to Carrie MacLaren, to "go on autopilot [and] choose candidates like we choose toothpaste."

According to some psychologists and researchers, the "data smog" that bombards us every day may be making us ill by interfering with our sleep, sabotaging our concentration and undermining our immune systems. David Lewis, PhD, a British psychologist, calls the malady "information fatigue syndrome." Caused by the over-bombardment of information to the brain, Lewis terms the result to "paralysis of analysis."

According to psychologist and human-computer dynamics Larry Rosen, PhD, "We're taxing the limits of our human abilities." In a study he conducted titled, "Glued to the Screen: An Investigation into Information Addiction Worldwide," polled 1,000 business managers worldwide about their perceptions of technology-generated information. More than 60 percent said the information glut has made them stressed and tense.

Lewis has observed consistent response in focus groups he's conducted with other managers, financial analysts and information workers. When inundated with data, they make more mistakes, misunderstand others and snap at co- workers and customers. Of the excess of information that we absorb every day, Lewis makes the analogy. "If you're thirsty, it's sensible to stand under a faucet, not the Niagara Falls," he says.

Paul Saffo, a director with the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif., asserted in an interview with Information Week that central to the problem of information glut is the incapacity of the human process information. "Information overload is not a function of the volume of information out there. It's a gap between the volume of information and the tools we have to assimilate the information into useful knowledge."