The human brain, as is the case with any computer, is prone to overload. We will discuss the possible dangers and how to cope with large quantities of information.
The rate of data accumulation is always increasing. Nowadays it grows by about a third annually. The former CEO of Google, Erik Schmidt, claims that it takes us no more than two days to create the same amount of information that it took humanity to assemble from early civilisation to the year 2003.
What is Information overload
Information overload (also known as infoxication) is when the quantity of useful information significantly exceeds the ability of an average individual to process it. Knowledge ceases to be the basis of human activity and becomes a hindrance. Paradoxically, when faced with an abundance of information our brain suffers from its lack. We constantly feel that we’re missing out on something, which leads to mental and physical disorders.
Excess information affects our health in the same way as toxins, food or household chemicals. American scientists interviewed numerous managers from around the world and 73% of them revealed that they have to deal with a great amount of data in order to be successful at their job. They likewise noted that information overload results in health problems, a strained atmosphere at the workplace and the deterioration of personal and social relationships. Additionally, the neurophysiologist David Lewis defined the term ‘information overload syndrome’ as having the following side effects:
- The inability to correctly assess the situation and make appropriate decisions. The individual behaves unreasonably and inexplicably
- The brain is in a state of severe inhibition and stupor, an ‘analytical paralysis’ sets in
- Lack of concentration due to an overload of short-term memory
- Instead of increasing productivity, multitasking has the opposite effect
- Individuals are stuck at the phase of collecting information as oppose to acting upon it. There is a strong fixation on the idea that gathering new information will change the situation, which means that a solution can be postponed
- There are symptoms of a lack of information, including nervous agitation, increased heart rate and anxiety. This develops into hostility towards others, irritability and rage
- The human body is under stress, we are constantly in a rush because we are convinced that we have to hurry to keep pace with the times
Information overload is not only present on the individual level. Every year economics worldwide lose millions of dollars due to email spam. Employees spend their working time looking for important messages and some emails can get lost, which impacts the profit of enterprises.
Why does the brain overload
- Technologies are developing rapidly
The transfer and duplication of data over the Internet becomes easier every single year. The number of available communication channels also increases, be it phones, emails or social networks… The same content can be circulating through several mediums.
- Technologies are not suitably integrated
There is no universal search engine that could serve as a form of navigation in the vast ocean of data. While sifting through data and selecting useful information our brain is swamped with junk.
- Organisations lack rationality when working with data
…and they constantly collect information. There are no standard working procedures or communication strategies. Employees perform several tasks at the same time.
- Different individuals have different abilities in terms of information processing
Important factors to keep in mind are age, experience, skills, well-being, as well as external ones, such as noise level, temperature and time of the day.
- The abundance of fake news
Individuals often deal with unreliable information that needs to be verified.
How to keep your brain safe from an information overload
- Occasionally make decisions without analysing them. The brain can make decisions subconsciously, which is often the best course of action.
- Don’t try to answer every phone call or message. Choose a specific time during the day for virtual communication and checking your email.
- Acquire some time management skills
- Do one task at a time
- Spend a few hours a day away from any information sources. Reboot your system by spending holidays or weekends without an Internet connection.
- Opt for reliable sources of information that provide useful and authentic insights that do not need to be double-checked.
- Organise your workspace in such a manner as to limit excessive information. In the book Magic Cleaning, for instance, a specialist on the organisation of households even suggests dispensing with labels on hygiene products.
- Engage yourself on the spiritual level. This may involve meditation, prayers or other means of introspection. This can help clear your mind from negative thoughts and increase your ability to concentrate.
- TED: Decision making in a world of information overload
- TED: Cognitive overload - rewire your brain in the digital age
- BBC: Marie Kondo - does tidiness really equal a clean mind?
- BBC: What the science suggests so far about the impact of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram on your mental well-being
- TED: Anxiety in the age of misinformation
TEXT: LISA AHMETGOROVA
TRANSLATION: DASHA EVSINA
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