In his book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler describes how people can have troubles understanding an issue or making decisions when facing too much information. In psychology, information overload relates to an overabundance of incoming information into the senses. Aggravated by the internet and the information society, this phenomenon has been very hotly discussed in the past few years, as it has created a new reality where we are now dependent on this method to access new information. The almost instant access, oftentimes without knowing the validity of the content and the risk of misinformation (Information pollution) is only one of the many concerns our society faces.
The resulting abundance of, and desire for more information has come to be perceived in some groups, paradoxically, as the source of as much productivity loss as gain. Information Overload can lead to “information anxiety,” which is the gap between the information we understand and the information that we think that we must understand in order to fulfill certain needs. Therefore, an often discussed concern is that massive amounts of information can negatively impact productivity and decision-making because we belief, we don’t have enough or even all the information to make a decision (although this is always the case-there is no such thing as complete information. This is why many economic models regarding the financial markets don’t work in reality as the assumption of complete information is simply false!)
Although we tend to think that this phenomenon is fairly new and a challenge which have been caused by the rise of the Internet, it’s not the whole truth. Already in the Renaissance when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1444, this marked a period of information overload. As a result of lowering production costs, generation of printed materials like books were made available to the average person. Scholars complained about the abundance of information and felt the supply of new information was distracting and difficult to manage. Sounds familiar?
The big question now is: which skills do we need in order to filter and process all these informationa in a way that is a) efficient, b) not stressful or overwhelming and c) is giving us the answers we really need in order to make smart decisions and don’t fear to take decisions in the first place.
1) Be aware of the informations your really need and recognize when you’re leaving the “right” path. Oftentimes, I catch myself reading many articles just because they pop up on social media, or I find an information in an article and get carried away…It’s like taking a branch when you’re on your way to another destination completely. And although these articles are in my field of interest, not all of them are really useful or neccessary at that time. Take for example recipes or restaurant recommendations. I’m a passionate foodie and I love exploring new food, restaurants, cafes and bars. But reading about a new Cafe when you are initially searching for a study about the nutritional value of Green Tea, is pulling you away from your initial goal and requires you to put more time than neccessary into the task. Of course, you can mark that Cafe to read about it later when you’re done. It’s just important to ask yourself: am I still following my initial goal? If not, you may get lost in the information flood!
2) Care about what you read! In this article I already pointed out some practices that are helpful in order to make the most out of the content you consume.
a) How can I apply insights from what I read in the next couple of days? (Wait and you forget)
b) Have I already applied the ideas from this article at some point? Where have I not, but could have? (How would this have changed the situation?)
Connecting the information you read to your past experiences is one of the best ways to remember the new information.
3) Avoid Redundancy and sugar coating! This is a major problem which may steal you a lot of time. It’s incredible how many people repeat thmeselves or put in too much needless, additional information. When you know what you are searching for (and you should always know that), try to scan the text first very quickly. When you catch certain keywords you are searching for, you can go into detail! Speedreading is a powerful tool which can help you hereby tremendously!