Information Indigestion

We all suffer from information overload. How can our brains handle this much information? Are we learning more and getting smarter or suffering from information Obsessive Compulsive Disorder where we compulsively collect more, and often useless, information; check email; monitor tweets; update our Facebook status; text our friends and family; instant message our co-worker next to us – all at the same time?


Alvin Toffler coined the term “information overload” in 1970 in his book, Future Shock. The term refers to the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information. While the term may have been coined over thirty years ago, information overload may have started with the Library of Alexandria, when there was more information than one person could possibly deal with.

According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, more information is now produced in two days than was in all of time before 2003. In a world of infinite wisdom, what are we to do with all this information? Twitter CEO, Evan Williams, argues that Twitter is the answer to information overload. According to Williams, Twitter is recipient-based and well suited for our now “interest-based world.” As opposed to email, people who have something to say can find their audience. However, like Google, Twitter still needs to be filtered.

I recently read that “Data is like food. A good meal is served in reasonably-sized portions from several food groups. It leaves you satisfied but not stuffed. Likewise with information, we're best served when we can partake of reasonable, useful portions, exercising discretion in what data we digest and how often we seek it out.” But, information is not handed out in bite-size portions these days. How do we digest all that we ingest? And, how do we ensure that we are getting the highest quality ingredients that won’t leave us with indigestion?

Aside from relying on products that filter information, one solution seems to be in honing some of our neglected critical thinking skills, such as interpreting data, uncovering bias, and thinking and reading critically. Maybe if we focus on these skills, our experiences will be more akin to fine dining than a fast-food frenzy.