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Information Overload or Populist Outrage?

By Elizabeth Terry *

We are now in a world where everyone has ready access to information, we are in a world where research can be done right at your fingertips. We are now in a so-called "Information Age" where every information that you need can be accessed in a snap.

However, a dilemma arises over this easy access and that is aptly called, Information Overload - I.O.(also known as Infobesity or Infoxication). This is a term coined by the author Alvin Toffler on his best-selling book, AfterShock. These phenomena coined by Toffler happens when a person has too much presence of information which affects his decision making because it exceeds the processing ability of the mind.

Long before that, the concept was introduced by Diderot, although it was not by the term 'information overload': "As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes." – Denis Diderot, "Encyclopédie" (1755)

One early instance of Information Overload's effect on decision making can be found in an article by Jacob Jacoby, Donald Speller, and Carol Kohn Berning, who conducted an experiment on 192 housewives which was said to confirm the hypothesis that more information about brands would lead to poorer decision making.

Such definitions can be attributed to the rise of the Internet and more specifically, social media. The different forms of social media are often portrayed as necessary channels of communication. Nowadays, people tend to be their own gatekeepers of information and their own editor.

George Miller first hypothesized "Information Overload" on his Ph.D. dissertation in 1956. Miller proposed that a person only has a finite capacity to hold information and if it exceeds its limit. Though, professor Tim Kastelle completely disagrees.

Original cartoon from Rob Cottiingham - Social Signal

Infoxication tends to be distracting in a way that it clouds the person's ability to think on its own, making them lazy because it indirectly condones "Instant Gratification" wherein people do not want to think for themselves anymore and relies on the info readily available on the Internet.

E-Mail is still one of the leading causes of distribution of over information however as we've mentioned, social media is up and coming. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are one of the major sources of Internet data nowadays. With Facebook's "Like and Share" method, information can go viral within hours with countless people sharing it. The same goes for Twitter with their "retweet".

Nicholas Carr, former editor of the Harvard Business Review says that the Internet is exploiting the human mind's instinct to search for new information, making us addicted to mindlessly press levers in hopes of intellectual nourishment. A sentiment shared by Google founder Eric Schmidt who said that abundance of information results in an impact with the human thought process.

Another problem that arrives regarding this is called Information Pollution. It refers to when a piece of not so factual or accurate information gets mixed up with the factual ones. It may be because of the easy access to the Internet where one can easily input their own ideas into a certain matter and people will readily accept it as true. People now can do their own research on the Internet with the risk of misinformation.

Information Pollution is a problem that is rapidly growing because of the growing social media. It may be gossip about a celebrity, a conspiracy theory regarding the government or some important people may be false, but because of the process of "Like and Share", it goes viral and people tend to believe that it is true. It is dangerous and is currently happening right now.

But what can we do about it? Others have proposed that we limit our access to the Internet especially on e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. But let's all admit that it's a bit hard. Even a legitimate news source is now using those social media sites to spread the news so it's getting harder and harder to determine which information is factual and which information is false.

Our access to information is getting more and more advanced but does it make our minds any sharper? It seems that people, like I have said, have become more lethargic when it comes to thinking for themselves. It's something that is a result of instant access.

Dealing with I.O. from a social network like Facebook has been studied by Humboldt University in which students prioritize updates from friends from faraway places and are deactivating Facebook accounts.

Having access to information is generally a good thing. It can help you a lot like for example your homework but the problem is that not every information you found on the Internet can be taken at face value. It does indeed sound cliche but too much of anything is a bad thing.

Indeed, having knowledge is somewhat addicting and so is sharing them. The point that is trying to be made here is that people need to properly discern whether the data that they got is true or not. And more importantly, people need to start thinking for themselves by limiting the information that they take. Prioritizing only vital ones and eschewing trivial information like celebrity gossip as it tends to distract people on what is truly important.

The ease of duplication and transmission of data because of the Internet, take many to lack of method on comparing information sources.

(*) Elizabeth Terry is a college student taking a degree in Creative Writing. She has interests in writing about education, technology, and creative stories. Apart from studying diligently, she also works as a part-time writer on http://www.essayontime.com/. She lives at Alameda, CA. She's active in interacting in various social networking sites like twitter and google+.

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