Information Overload: Definition & Example

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Email, social media and the internet - oh my! The digital age, combined with older forms of communication, is adding up to more information overload. In this lesson, learn more about what that is and how to cope.

Information Overload

The news can be hard to keep up with: elections, international relations, natural disasters, local events, etc. However, in the digital age of the 21st century, you can juggle it all. Watch a 'breaking news' story on television while your smartphone buzzes to show you a candidate's latest tweet.

Buzz. There's a new magazine article out. Buzz. Check out this post on Facebook. Buzz. Someone texts you about a comment that's been made. Buzz. There's an email. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

Many people spend the entire day not more than a few inches away from a steady stream of information on any topic our hearts desire: ''Why do dogs bark?'' ''What is this spot on my skin?'' ''What's the best tourist attractions in Nashville?'' Whatever you want to know, you can find out in a matter of seconds.

Even music choices are built right into our telephones. We have access to more than 30 million songs through apps like Apple Music and Spotify at a moment's notice.

While all of this access is great (sometimes), it can also lead to something known as information overload.

What is Information Overload?

Information overload is when a person takes in more details than they're able to process at any given time. In short, the piggy bank is full, but we keep trying to cram more money in the slot. Our brains are only equipped to process so much information at once, and we are exposed - daily - to far more than we can sort through.

Believe it or not, the popularization of the phrase ''information overload'' dates back to 1970 in a book written by Alvin Toffler called Future Shock, about society going from industrial to super-industrial and the likely reactions of the people.

Information Overload Today

We crave information, and managing it has become tricky thanks to things like the internet, social media, mobile phone applications, texting and email, not to mention newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

There are massive volumes of new information coming our way every day. In a 60-second period of time, 3.3 million Facebook posts are made; 500 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded; and 150,000 emails are sent.

We are confronted daily with enough information to fill up 175 newspapers. We're not built to process all of that information. When we attempt to process more than we can handle, our brains become fatigued, and we suffer from, you guessed it, information overload.

Strategies for Coping with Information Overload

So, how do you contend with information bombarding you at every turn? Here are a few strategies for coping.

  • Limit your options

Do you need to follow 10 different television stations and eight newspapers on social media? Probably not. Find one or two expert sources locally and nationally that you trust, and ditch the rest.

More than likely, they'll all be covering the same news stories anyway. Grab information online from two or three legitimate sources and then stop searching.

  • Use an organization system

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