The term "information overload" (I.O.) was coined by futurist Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock (1970). In his prediction, the society of the future would spread information at increasing speed and in growing amounts. People may become overstimulated by it, causing all kinds of complications, ranging from bad information processing to misinformation and miscommunication.
One common example of I.O. takes place in schools and colleges all over the country, where quotas must be met in terms of standardized testing scores, grade point averages, or performance indicators.
The "experts" who plan the scope and sequence to be followed by educators may be adamant that a specific percentage of the student population must meet certain goals. As a result, teachers would need to teach an immense amount of information and expect the students to follow up likewise after school and at home.
Being that the quantity, and not the quality, of teaching is at the epicenter of the I.O. debacle, the results may or may not show whether the students have learned anything. It only shows how well or how badly the students performed on a test or a task that is measured. This leads to the question, what are the symptoms of I.O.?
The symptoms of I.O include anxiety, stress, misunderstanding, and low comprehension. The anxiety stems from the preoccupation of whether the listener has acquired and understood the information completely and accurately. Stress is an inevitable result: there is no learning achieved with I.O. because the affective filter of the listener is already filled with anxiety and overstimulation. The misunderstanding is the ultimate result of I.O. With little to no facts accurately stored in short-term memory it is impossible to encode and apply the core of the data for long-term retrieval.
I.O. operates similarly at work places. When there is too much training done in a short period of time, it is more than likely that the employees will not digest the entire curriculum of information. Moreover, an imperative factor that makes all the difference in being able to achieve learning is motivation. When information is crammed into thick, long, and extenuating formats, whatever motivation that may already be there will undoubtedly disappear.
In everyday life there is an interesting aspect to I.O. While daily news are available in internet, by receiving text messages, through radio and TV, in a myriad of other ways, it is amazing to see how little people really know about current events.
The Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University published a study in 2010 titled Overwhelmed and Under-informed? How Americans Keep Up with Current Events in the Social Media (Harttigai, Neuman, Curry, 2010) and the results showed that, while being "overwhelmed" was an option among the participants (you can always change the channel or choose not to watch the news), they do admit that the information overload comes from the repetitive aspect of the news, for the lack of neutrality from many popular news sources, and from the vast amount of news sources that may or may not have validity.
Therefore, I.O. is the same in every dimension. It is sending information in high quantity and with no set parameters of quality.
Information overload can be described as "trying to deal with more information than you are able to process to make sensible decisions." This can be a very stressful problem and can cause a "delay in making decisions, or that you make the wrong decisions."
Some ways to experience information overload in school is having too much homework and/or covering information incredibly quickly. It's like cramming for a test. It's a lot of information all at once.
With work, information overload can occur in many different ways depending on the job. For example, if you work within the food industry it may feel like information overload when you have many orders all at once and they have a lot of changes made to the normal meal. It can be stressful to try and get it all put together correctly and mistakes can occur with so much to process in a short amount of time. If you are working in an office you may have so many documents or reports that you must finish in a tight deadline that it becomes a lot of information all at once. These are a few examples of information overload.
Some ways information overload is presented in everyday life is when you are searching online and end up reading too many articles all at once, seeing too many ads pop up or are trying to juggle through multiple tabs of different information to try take in. If you walk down a busy street crowded with people, with bright lights and loud noises and you are engaged in a conversation with a group of people who are all talking over each other, this can also be information overload since there is so much going on around you that your brain is trying to make sense of.