advertisement

Home » Psych Central Professional » How Information Overload Affects the Brain


How Information Overload Affects the Brain

Our technological powers increase,

But the side effect and potential hazards also escalate (Alvin Toffler)1

 I know the world is turning on its axis but somebody must be stepping on the ‘accelerator pedal’ because my head is spinning. I’m beginning to feel nauseous, confused, and irritable. There is just too much information coming at me, too fast, and from too many sources.

While living in the ‘Information Age’2 has changed the world in many positive ways in terms of commerce, entertainment, work, communication, and education, it has also caused serious negative side effects, such as pornography, opportunities for the growth of hate groups, sexual predators, and cyber bullies. For the average citizen, however, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.

Alvin Toffler coined the term, “Future Shock” to describe “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”3 It can create difficulty in understanding an issue that can interfere with decision-making.

The problem has been triggered by the ability in recent decades for technology to produce and disseminate information at lightning speed, and more widely than ever before. The more rapidly changing and novel the environment, the more information the individual needs to process in order to make effective, rational decisions.

There are numerous examples that support his concept. For instance, in this fast-paced global village, we are bombarded by news sources like CNN, whose screen is electrified with multi-visual, aural, and ever-changing kaleidoscopic charges of data.

And, in case you feel you are missing any brief bits and bytes exploding around the world, a ticker tape of on-going catastrophes of ‘Breaking News’ is running simultaneously along the bottom of the screen.

Information Overload

Information overload is infecting our lives and is multiplied exponentially when we are forced to wade through dizzying amounts of information to make simple everyday decisions.

In fact, Schumpeter writes in “Too Much Information” that, “Information overload is one of the biggest irritations in modern life” (The Economist, 2011).4 It is not only businesses that experience an inordinate volume of information but ordinary people trying to cope with navigating life’s challenges, like well-meaning friends sending jokes, stories, and scam warnings, unwanted promos, and a multitude of assorted clutter.

All place heavy demands on brain function, which becomes overwhelming and confusing. The result may be what some commentators have coined as “data smog” or “data asphyxiation.”5.

But, we proudly boast. We can juggle many things. No problem. Really?  Neuroscientist Michael J. Levitin forces you to face reality when he tells us, Why the modern world is bad for your brain (The Guardian, (2015).6 People may think they can manuever many different tasks equally well, but multitasking is a delusion. They are actually dividing their attention, cognitively lowering the quality of each task in the decision-making process.

Multitasking

He adds that, “multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.”7

In addition, the prefrontal cortex is easily hijacked by new ‘toys’, each competing with the other for your attention, like an amateur plate spinner. We depend on our brain region to stay on task. “Make no mistake. Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.”8

But perhaps the ‘accelerator pedal’ can be slowed or even eliminated. In Ten Steps to conquering information overload (2014), Laura Shin, a Forbes contributor, says that “…it ‘costs’ you to ‘spend’ oxygenated glucose, the fuel you need for tasks on forced immediate decisions.”9 To help reduce the stress in switching tasks she offers a number of suggestions to counter the problem.

For example, limit the distraction of emails; make important decisions early in the day because that’s when your energy level is highest; prioritize the more important tasks; and take breaks every couple of hours to re-energize the brain.

Alvin Toffler died on June 27, 2016 at the age of 87, but he left us with, probably, his best advice going forward:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who

cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”10

 Sources:

  1. https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/alvin_toffler.
  2. http://www.ushistory.org/us/60d.asp.
  3. https://www.amazon.ca/Future-Shock-Alvin-Toffler/dp/0553277375/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1520526394&sr=1-2#reader_0553277375 (p2)
  4. Schumpeter, Too Much Information, The Economist, June 30th, 2011. http://www.economist.com/node/18895468.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Levitin, Daniel, J., ‘Why the modern world is bad for your Brain’ (the Guardian, 2015). https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/18/modern-world-bad-for-brain-daniel-j-levitin-organized-mind-information-overload.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Shin, Laura, http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2014/11/14/10-steps-to-conquering-information-overload/#6631608b24fe
  10. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/8800-the-illiterate-of-the-21st-century-will-not-be-those

 

How Information Overload Affects the Brain

Libby Simon, MSW

Libby Simon, MSW, is a retired school social worker and parent educator who was employed in child welfare for several years followed by 20 years with the Child Guidance Clinic of Winnipeg. Also a late-blooming freelance writer, her numerous publications have appeared in a variety of periodicals in Canada and the U.S.

 

APA Reference
Simon, L. (2018). How Information Overload Affects the Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 11, 2018, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/how-information-overload-affects-the-brain/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Mar 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Mar 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.