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Information overload is a description given to the phenomenon where so much information is taken in by the human brain that it becomes nearly impossible to process it. Alvin Toffler, an academic from Russia, is credited with coining the term. Since the phrase was first used, it has become very popular, especially in the computer age, though some say that the idea is more a time and presentation issue than an actual data issue.
The reason that concerns about information overload have become so prevalent in today's world is explained by the complexities of the communications systems available to human beings. Instant communication is available by e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging. Added to that, are the thousands of academic journals on the Internet, and even more information freely distributed through blogs and amateur Web sites. When all that is considered, information is being exchanged at rates never before experienced.
Further, when considering these sources, much of the information being presented may not be original. As a result, many times the reader or viewer will spend time going over data already received from other sources. If there are discrepancies, or even small differences in the way the information is presented, this could create confusion, leading an individual to feel overwhelmed.
Those who suffer from information overload may come from a variety of professions and fields, but they tend to be those most closely associated with study-intensive pursuits, or those deeply involved in communications. For example, they could be academics or students who may try to to do too much research, by using too many sources too quickly. Doctors doing research into a patient's condition or treatment options could also become overwhelmed with all the materials available to them, as could an administrative assistant managing multiple schedules and channels of communication at once.
Despite the fact that too much information seems to be a real problem for many people, some say the real problem is time overload. In other words, the information being distributed is able to be processed, but there is simply not enough time to do it. If that is the case, the solution is not reducing the intake of information, but allowing more time to process it. Relaxation techniques and improved time management may also be able to offer some relief.
Another problem some see behind this issue is simply the way the information is presented. With television programs and commercials training millions of brains for flashy images and scenes that quickly cut in and out, information often becomes somewhat disjointed. Therefore, the brain must spend a longer period of time trying to connect it all together for a more cohesive picture.
I work for a newspaper and I always teeter on the edge of information overload when something big happens. The worst was Sept. 11, 2001. There was nothing but wall-to-wall coverage of the event on TV for something like four days. I heard nothing but that at work, and couldn't even escape it when I came home. The same images played over and over. It was awful.
I finally just took a lot of walks and then holed up in the bedroom with the computer and played a *lot* of solitaire. Beat the heck out of sitting there and watching an unending news feed on television.
I had a class called "Myth and Folklore" in college. We had to read, along with our textbook, this other book called "The Golden Bough," by James Frazer. Along with all that, we watched parts of a PBS series where Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell.
I'm telling you -- after about six weeks of all that, I definitely had information overload! Mostly, our professor was trying to introduce us to all the New Age stuff she believed in by relating it to the coursework. We didn't do much study on myths or folklore, but we talked a heck of a lot about quest legends and that kind of thing. I felt brain dead by the end of that class. So much stuff and few practical applications for it. I had to have it for my degree, but it was a complete waste of tuition.