Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dr. Faulkner: Information Overload

I recently read an article titled “Mindful Leadership and Navigating the Seas of Change in the Information Age” by J.W. Misner (2014).  The article explores the current state of information overload in which we live and the impacts on our attention.  The article uses the analogy that we are no longer “drinking from a fire hose,” but also forced to choose which fire hose from among many.

The article presents some startling statistics:

·    -The amount of information projected to be created by all of humanity during the year 2010 is a zettabyte.  Expressed numerically that is 1 followed by 21 zeroes. (Blair, 2010)
     -The amount of information previously created by humanity was five exabytes or 5/1000ths of a zettabyte. (Rieland, 2012)

The author offers that the abundance of information results in a competition for our attention. He quotes from a pre-Internet article by Simon (1971).

“. . . in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else;  a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes.  What information consumes is rather obvious; it consumes the attention of its recipients.  Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate the attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Meisner proposes that the overload of information and the constant competition causes hyperstress which manifests as “a sense of alarm, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, heavier breathing, tense skeletal muscles, etc.”  He goes on to assert that “users gravitate toward the most palpable information, which is analogous to mindlessly eating dessert for every meal.”  Although I’ve been known to eat dessert first, a constant diet is definitely not a healthy habit.

The author proposes a remedy would be to become more conscious of our information consumption.  He suggests that for one week, we should inventory our sources and consumption habits.

I would add one more suggestion.  Periodically go “off-line.”  Unplug from the information fire hose for a few hours.  A full day would be even better.  We could all use a little less stress in our lives.

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner
Blair, A.  (2010)  Information Overload, Then and Now.  Retrieved from
Misner, J. W. (2014), Mindful Leadership and Navigating the Seas of Change in the Information Age. Journal of Leadership Studies, 8: 46–50.
Rieland, R. (2012) Big Data or Too Much Information? Retrieved from
Simon, H.A. (1971) Designing Organizations for an Information Rich World. In M. Greenberger (Ed.) Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest (pp. 40-41). Baltimore, MD; The Johns Hopkins Press.

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