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What You Need to Know About Information Overload

By: Eszter C.
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I started to google all the best practices to optimize a website. I learned about on-page search engine optimization (SEO), off-page SEO, and other subtopics that even bored me to death. I read through long infographics and short listicles. My mind was a trampoline for words like meta description tags, target keywords, internal linking, and bounce rate. I felt a pit in my stomach building as I continued to read. Pop-ups, email sign-ups, and bright buttons that read “BUY NOW” dominated my computer screen real estate. The pit in my stomach got larger as flashy advertisements and clickbait headlines introduced me to more intriguing topics. Videos blasting loud music emerged out of nowhere; my mouse darted from one browser window to another, and my battery quickly started to drain. Suddenly, the window disappeared and my computer crashed. My mind reflected the black screen before me and the large stone that sat in my stomach erupted.

What is Information Overload

Information overload is when our brain receives an incoming of more information than it can comprehend. Sometimes we realize it while other times we do not. It feels like the internet pressures us to consume high volumes of new data, whether we want to or not. Notifications, email newsletters, and the casual web search that leads us down an infinite rabbit hole make us wonder if content creators ever sleep. The simplicity of sharing and reusing information also makes it even easier for us to get lost in the sea of knowledge. Mitchell Kapor says it perfectly, “Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.”

The Information Addiction

The constant hunt for knowledge is deeply rooted in our brains. Dopamine neurons send signals of reward, pleasure, and satisfaction. Dopamine neurons transmit a good feeling after you exercise or when you earn money. It also carries signals of delight when the chance of consuming information presents itself to us. Our brains reward us for information because it helps us make better decisions, take control of our environment, and increase our probabilities of evolution. The search for knowledge is an evolutionary adaptation encoded in us. Our brains can overvalue incoming information to satisfy our curiosity. Even if the content doesn’t benefit us in any way, we still want to know what it is. The brain rewards us when we come across any kind of data, beneficial or not. Believe it or not, we can become addicted to information since the same regions of the brain light up as the search for money.

Preventative Steps to Take

Is the addiction to knowledge treatable? Of course. The first step in dealing with information overload is to admit that one can never know everything. This first step is critical to comprehend. Next, you need to develop systems that weed out useless information that would waste your time. Here are some ways you can conserve your attention:

1. Research before you consume

Reading reviews about a book, researching an author, and skimming the table of contents and summaries help you determine whether a more comprehensive source of information (documentary, book, long podcast, etc.) will be worth your time.

Publications and sources of information are supposed to work for you, not the other way around. Once you understand a concept or have obtained the information you were looking for, stop trudging through content only to finish it.

2. Less quantity is higher quality

An information filter can help eliminate useless information references and allow you to absorb quality content. Have a “consumption target,” meaning dedicate a purpose to what you would use the information for. Seek information that directly helps fulfill that goal.

3. Take breaks

Sometimes, it is good to unplug from tech and read printed information. It is easier to focus and absorb since you do not have any distractions.

4. Keep track of your interests

Have a “learn later” list where you can write down ideas you are interested in and want to learn more about. This gives you the ease of mind when you feel like there is so much information you want to learn, but can’t keep track of it all. Have one priority for the information you consume. It’s difficult to learn everything about astrophysics, computer programming, and speed reading. However, it’s much easier to deepen your understanding of only one of those subjects.

Break down a general interest like “web design” into smaller topics like “typography, layout design, color theory, etc.” This will help pinpoint what themes are of interest to you, and which are irrelevant.

5. Develop multiple profiles

Search engines aren’t great at recommending general information you are interested in. If you make separate accounts that are highly specific to a topic, you can create a more focused and more detailed environment.

Remember, information is just information. Don’t read and consume it for learning’s sake. You will not learn anything if you don’t apply it. Take as much time as learning as executing and putting the ideas you learned into action. Otherwise, all that you read about and acquired will go to waste. Information overload is a choice. It’s about prioritizing what is impactful and valuable. Apply the tips above, and not only will you be less stressed and have a better experience of browsing, but you will also improve your thinking by consuming quality content.

References:

Lane, C. (2009, October 13). The Chemistry of Information Addiction. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-we-addicted-to-inform/

Liu, F. (2020, January 26). How Information-Seeking Behavior Has Changed in 22 Years. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/information-seeking-behavior-changes/

Cohut, M. (2019, June 28). Are our brains addicted to information? Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325588

Interaction Design Foundation. (2020, June 22). Information Overload, Why it Matters and How to Combat It. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/information-overload-why-it-matters-and-how-to-combat-it



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