How much overload are we talking when it comes to today’s digital world?
According to the Real Time Statistics Project, as of January this year, there are close to two billion websites on the internet. And we are also facing 175 million tweets every day, and 30 billion pieces of content shared monthly on Facebook.
If you wanted to process all the digital data that exists? It would be like watching 200 billion movies. In HD. Oh wait. That was a statistic from seven years ago, so add some more films to the list… feeling overwhelmed yet?
Information overload in the workplace
Sure, it’s our choice to spend our eveningscruising the internet pretending we are looking for a healthy recipe as we read the latest gossip on the Daily Mail, listen to a podcast, and answer texts.
Do you wake up determined to have a focussed day? Checksocial media just once, then decide to glance ever so briefly a cute cat video? Until suddenly it’s five o’clock, and your day has passed yet again in a haze of distraction?
The primitive part of our brain responds not just to threats, but also to opportunities. So each time we respond to a modern day ‘opportunity’ like, say, a text? It rewards us.
Each time you change activities your brain responds with a feel-good dopamine hit.
So yes, you could argue that information overloading can improve your moods. Except for the minor fact that it’s addictive. Each stimulating distraction adds dopamine, until you are on the addictive ‘dopamine loop’. The true danger of cat videos….
The negative effects of information overload
A reality check is needed when it comes to our addiction to information. What’s the real cost of information overload?
1. Cue memory loss.
Anthony Wagner, professor of psychology at Stanford University, headed up a report that summarised over a decade of findings around media multitasking and cognition. One of his biggest conclusions? Those who often use many kinds of media at the same time achieved significantly poorer results on easy memory tasks.
And Wagner drives the point home in an interview for ‘The Stanford Report‘, saying that, ‘There’s not a single published paper that shows shows a significant positive relationship between working memory capacity and multitasking’.
Psychology has long been fascinated by the effects of multitasking on the brain, with studies going as far back as the 1990s.
And the conclusion is always the same . We pay a price for multi-tasking, called the ‘switching cost’. And that price is time. The time to change attention and refocus, but also the time to correct mistakes, which we make more of when multi-tasking.
The American Psychological Association (APA) point out that, “Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks….. as much as 40 per cent of someone’s productive time.”
3. You make bad decisions about important things.
Daniel J. Levitin, neuroscientist and author of the book, “The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload”, explains in his book that multitasking involves a lot of fast, little decisions. We decide if we are going to ignore or answer a text or email, what tone we’ll use in our response, if we’ll let ourselves be distracted by a silly video.
And these little decisions take a toll. “Decision making is hard on your neural resources, and little decisions appear to take up as much energy as big ones,” Levitin explains.”After making a lot of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important.”
Can information overload cause mental health issues?
Self-esteem can also be affected. Feel like everyone around you at work is so focussed and capable, and you are the only one who can’t seem to cope? It’s bound to leave you feeling a little ‘less than’.
Navigating info overload can particularly kill your confidence if have adult ADHD. The modern workplace can leave you feeling that your natural talents, say, brainstorming, creativity, and lateral thinking, are being drowned out in a need for data upkeep your brain isn’t designed to meet.
And depression and information overload can become a symbiotic relationship, if not a positive one. We overload on info as a distraction from depression, which can then leave us feeling worse instead of better.
How to handle information overload?
Aside from the obvious, if highly unpopular, idea ofmonitoring your screen time? Or the logic notion of doing one thing at a time? What can be done? There are tactics that can help. Sign up to our blog now to know when our connected piece is released, ‘How to Handle Information Overload”.