What is Information Overload and it’s symptoms

Posted on: March 22, 2010

The advent of modern computers that has the ability to create, duplicate and access vast amounts of information. It has reinvented the term ‘Information Overload’, and presents information overload as a chaotic world:

Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ (1970) talks about “Future Shock”  where people have the incapacity to adjust to the quickening pace of society due to technological change. There are certain advantages to technology but he questions if humans are capable of keeping up emotionally. He 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.

What are the viewers and participant thinking when accessing mass information?

I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up.
–  Erma Bombeck

Technology is so much fun but we can drown in our technology. The fog of information can drive out knowledge.
– Daniel J. Boorstin

Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.
– William Pollard

One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There`s always more than you can cope with.
– Marshall McLuhan

Information is the seed for an idea, and only grows when it`s watered.
– Heinz V. Bergen

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.
– Gertrude Stein

The Guardian

Mail online

  • Too much multi-tasking serves more distractions and less focus.
  • Technology and networking sites e.g.: Facebook, emails, mobile phones, iPods, portable DVD players, television, games consoles, etc…
  • Cafes, waiting rooms, pubs places to get away from technology, now offers wireless connection.
  • Unnecessary emails that people process through.
  • Takes time to return to suspended work from distraction.
  • No time to reflect on the world around them, or their future.
  • Nurturing a culture of fragmentation and detachment.
  • Easy access information – Google.
  • Instant messaging replaces ‘in person’ meetings. Distract us from real contact with the people around us (informal, or formal).
  • Personal meeting interrupted by messages.
  • Unnecessary messages sent (esp in the work place).
  • Focus and awareness is a lost art.
  • Accidents.
  • Unproductive.
  • Aimless.
  • Burn out.
  • Preferred time spent online then in reality, weakened bonds in families spending less time together.
  • “…anything that we want to learn must be entered into our long-term memory stores via mental processing that can take days and even months to accomplish.” Memory retrieval is harder if it’s instantly accessed and skimmed through.
  • Psychologist test – failed to see details when focused on one thing (attention):

“Another disturbing experiment at the same university involved subjects watching a short video of a game of basketball and counting how many times the ball was passed by one team.

Half were so engrossed in noting the throws and catches that they failed to notice a woman in a gorilla suit who walked calmly among the players for nine seconds, pausing briefly in the middle of the screen to pound her chest.

Told later about the gorilla, many test subjects refused to believe it existed until shown the film a second time. This highlights another problem, that we often vastly overestimate our ability to multi-task.”

These psychology tests show that the information presented to the audience became a form of sensory overload (visual and sound):

‘Your ability to block out almost all of the stimuli that is reaching your senses allows to remain focused on what you are doing. If everything that is happening around you were to become apparent to you, you would have sensory overload and be unable to function efficiently at any given task. The only time other stimuli comes into your conscious awareness is when they require your attention. It is then that the subconscious mind alerts the conscious mind of this stimulus.

Likewise you have learned to walk, talk and drive consciously. Yet, when you perform these tasks now, you access your subconscious programs and run them automatically. This frees up your conscious mind to do other things. Once you consciously learn something it is passed into the subconscious mind for storage and retrieval. The same applies to your current predominate thoughts, attitudes and feelings.

Most of your beliefs and attitudes have been formed over many years and many have been critically analysed and tested throughout your life. These beliefs and attitudes are stored in your subconscious mind and accessed as you need them. The subconscious mind is an obedient servant to the conscious mind. In fact it is merely a storehouse of information, feelings and beliefs. It cannot analyse or decide what it holds or what it does not. It accepts as fact everything that is given to it. To program the subconscious with stored information it is usually necessary for the information to pass through the conscious mind where it can be analysed and accepted or rejected. The conscious mind therefore acts a gatekeeper to the subconscious mind.’

‘Subliminal messages and advertising’ Michael McGrath

‘Many people believe that subliminal messages are images that are invisible to you or voices that cannot be heard. This is far from the truth. For subliminal messages to be effective they must be visible and you must be able audible. Subliminal messages are merely hidden or masked behind other things.’

To conclude: information overload in effect is often related to sensory overload, and both terms describe that a person has difficulty understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information. It is thought to cause disorientation and a lack of responsiveness, becoming less aware about themselves what their goals are and the people around them, and to cause the person to feel confused and anxious. It also leave the subconscious mind open to information, so how much information can the brain cope with consciously, until its overloaded?

We all know that we can best identify iconic images through association and experience, and according to George Sperling (1960) iconic memory is a type of short term visual memory, lasting only approximately 250 ms after the offset of a display. Through Sperlings experiments he discovered that the short term memory can only remember up to 4-5 items. He discovered this through experimenting on observers where they were required to identify visual icons in a set of the characters.

‘At various intervals after the removal of the visual display a tone was sounded. The frequency of the tone (e.g., high, medium, or low) indicated to observers which particular set of characters within the display they were to report (e.g., the top, middle or bottom row). In order to ensure that limits evident in the whole report task were not a factor for performance in the partial report condition, all rows were composed of only three or four characters (i.e., less than the limit associated with whole report). Performance in the partial report condition can be regarded as a random sample of an observer’s memory for the entire display. This type of sampling revealed that for short intervals following exposure observers have a much better memory than suggested by the whole report procedure. For instance, results using partial report suggest that observers retain about 12 characters from a 16-character array in memory immediately after presentation of the array.’

‘Short term storage of information in vision’ Averbach & Sperling (1961)

(I forgot to add that the device Sperling was using 1000fps when flashing images at his observers).

Sperling found that as long as the tone was sounded within 250 milliseconds (a quarter second) of the flash, subjects could report 3 out of 4 letters from any row. Apparently they preserved a memory of the entire image for a quarter second.

The use of audio tones helped set iconic images in the observers sort term memory, leaving an impression to interpretation; associating through past experience. I could use this method to restrain certain images for them to remember and interpret some meaning that can help reinforce my task of showing them what information overload is.

MK12’s interface in James Bond. Smart design, and fluid animation, use of simple shape to navigate the flow of information efficiently/flashy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


  • None
  • Mr WordPress: Hi, this is a comment.To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts' comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.


%d bloggers like this: