The advent of technological advancement carries with it enormous amounts of data that need to be processed on a daily basis (Toffler, A. 1991). As bulks of information flow from one source to another, analyzing, interpreting and dissecting this information becomes very taxing (Severin, W. and Tankard J., 2001). This day to day battle of sorting out valuable and invaluable information is termed information overload.
Coined by renowned author, sociologist and futurologist Alvin Toffler, in his book “Future Shock”, information overload suggests that the existence of enormous information is overwhelming for the people.
He noted that the transition of the society from industrial to super –industrial society means an enormous structural change of the society, and inevitably, the people will be greatly affected (Toffler, A., 1984). This is attributable to the fact that with such transition, acceleration of technological advancements happen, and along with it comes social change. Such transition creates a gap, to be filled by tons of new information that people essentially need to process.
To begin with, information coming from print to broadcast media do not even account to half of the data that needs to be processed on a routine basis (Perse, E. and Dunn, D.G., 1995) There also exists the World Wide Web, more commonly, the internet, where countless information is downloaded, sent and received on a millisecond basis.
A. Information Overload: Personally Identifiable Problems
Managing information is a very crucial task. It requires careful examination of content and cautious segregation of relevant data. According to Berkeley Researchers, the World generates information per year near to two exabytes (two billion gigabytes) or 2,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes to be precise (Farivar, 2001). More specifically, each person contributes 250 megabytes of new data on a yearly basis.The massive information distribution is very much evident in the amount of files we receive and sort everyday, the frequency of visiting new websites and even the number of email addresses a single person maintains.
Personally, managing, sorting and storing information is not an easy task. For a single research paper alone, PDF files stored in the computer nearly amounts to over a hundred. This of course is attributable to the fact that easier access of information is highly preferred as opposed to manually going to a library and painstakingly researching every piece of literature that is necessary. The idea of knowing that important files is just a click away, brings the much needed assurance that work required can be immediately performed. This however, crowds the fact that not all the files stored are really important. The fact that it seems important becomes reason enough to store them, resulting to enormous amounts of unnecessary information.
Another information overload problem that is commonly encountered is the urge to visit new websites per day. On a daily basis, the average websites visited would be around twenty new websites. This of course excludes the frequently visited websites, doubling the number of websites visited on a daily basis. Fact of the matter is, information viewed on these websites do not necessarily contain relevant data. But the fact that it contains information adds up to things that people process everyday.
TIVO recordings are evidently the new entertainment “necessity” for individuals. With about eighty hours of recording capacity, TIVO can store as much as 40 programs, films, series and whatever appeals to personal liking. Noteworthy of course is the fact that with so much available material on media, it becomes too much too handle in the sense that it crowds the mind into fully recognizing what needs to be prioritized. Brought about by these technological advancements, coping with all the readily available information and grasping them becomes overwhelming.
Moreover, personal email accounts add up to the sea of information drowning us on a daily basis. Having separate email accounts for work, personal, and business use is undeniably a major reason for information overload. Keeping track of 2 personal emails, 2 work-related email addresses and 3 email addresses catering to business, friends, family and even school can be too much to handle. More specifically, remembering passwords definitely makes it burdensome.
These personal problems encountered in relation to information overload, is painstakingly hard to manage, let alone to process, sort out and analyze.
B. Maximizing Available Technology: Tools That Solve the Problem
The first and most basic way to combat information overload is efficient time management (Perse, E. and Dunn, D.G, 1995). Allotting time to perform specific work is essential in determining the amount of information one needs to utilize at a particular moment. Juggling one activity from another consumes a lot of energy and paves way for getting information that are not necessarily needed. This means to that information from print, broadcast media coupled with World Wide Web data cannot be taken in all at once. There is a need to allocate a specific period to synthesize what information is contained in the respective sources. This involves checking out the date, paying attention to the sources, sorting out facts from mere opinions and finally deciphering what information is the most relevant. Indeed, the seemingly traditional way of looking for information needed can be done through search method.
On the technical aspect and more technologically advanced way, using filters such as those available in combating spam, can ease up information overload by preventing unsolicited messages from adding up to the bulk of the already overwhelming amount of information. The ability to process information lies heavily on the way it is evaluated. Specifically, information that can be found on the internet needs high level of caution so as to ensure its reliability. Authorship, date of publication, accuracy and verifiability of details are necessary (Cook, T., 2005).
Other methods such as blogging have been helpful since it creates interest-based communities, making information readily available for those who share the same topic of interest. RSS or Rich Site Syndication also increases the relevance of the information received (cook, T., 2005). Without the recipient’s request, information from blog networks could be sent to member, ensuring that information of interest to the recipient will be disseminated. Since this is evidently effective, many regularly updated websites now use RSS feeds.
By using feed monitoring, the information sent would be relatively relevant to the recipient since these involve subject areas of interest.
The Perfect Tool to Manage Information Overload
A perfect tool in managing the amount of information received and downloaded would be one which is more “human” in function. This means that the tool would be able to segregate information and retain only those that belong to the topic of interest of the recipient. This of course means more than just sending information because some of the words match that of the subject areas indicated by the would-be recipient. It would be more ideal if information provided is up to date, accurate and relevant.
It is important to note that the technology nowadays is slowly gearing towards achieving this kind of tool. The recent technology available provides live feeds, real time searching and continuously scanning millions of feeds. The term “semantic web” as used to refer to the dream search engine, means that through intelligent agents, or programs that learn one’s preference, the cyberspace would be a storehouse of documents more human in scale and appeal (Cook, T, 2005)..