Information Overload and People Analysis

The global society has entered a new information age which transformed all social spheres and interaction between people. This change was caused by computer revolution and development of the Internet. Modern technology and civilization are obviously a subject of tremendous scope and one which might be treated in a hundred ways. It is largely through organizations that technology influences modern man and modifies his ways of working or thinking or living. In spite of apparent benefits and easy access to information, information and technology cause stress and anxiety to a modern man. Thesis Information overload is a direct result of technological development and innovations introduced to mass society.

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Modern technology has changed all aspects of life introducing new ways of communication and data access. Modern technology may be perceived as an environment within which people live, made up of external and tangible things which they modify from time to time and which modify them (Solove 29). The subway taking a man to work is a fragment of that environment, the drop forge in a factory, indeed all machines and utilities in all factories are part of this external environment. So, too, is an operating room, a television set, and a guided missile. Modern technology can also be viewed internally. Following Postman: “we are currently surrounded by throngs of zealous Theuths, one-eyed prophets who see only what technology can do and are incapable to imagine what they will undo” (Postman, p. 5). An invention usually affects first the persons using it directly. If it be a producer’s goods such as a farm tractor, it means at once the replacement of horses or mules, the purchasing of gasoline, and changes in various other farm practices.

When information is everywhere, as it seems to be, the commodity in shortest supply is attention. When media, technologies, and information types proliferate, the only constant is limited span of attention, especially that of decision-makers and those who need information to act (Solove, p. 51). Following Jungwirth and Bruce: “Humans have dealt with a permanent information overload in every aspect of their lives and in every part of their history. Because humans are incapable of universal perception, what we perceive is inherently selective”. Unfortunately, people, who are generally both providers and users of information, have thought very little about how to attract attention to the information they create. As a result, most of it languishes on desks, in file cabinets, and in recycling bins. Some might say that unused information is not ignored; rather, it conflicts with managers’ existing perceptions and biases. Critics (Solove, p. 43) admit that people always look at information through some type of lens. To overcome existing predispositions requires a higher level of attention than do the rare cases where the information receiver is a tabula rasa; but that’s just reality in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with sensory input. We almost always filter information when we successfully engage with it (Solove, p. 45).

Modern technology makes a large amount of information available to mass society. In spite of benefits and opportunities proposed by global networks of information, information overload causes tress and anxiety to an average user. For a person, information overload occurs everywhere (Postman, p. 62). For instance, advertising does not engage customers, succeeding only through expensive repetition. While information providers have previously viewed access to information as their primary goal, access is not enough. People all have access to far more information than they can possibly pay attention to. New sources and media are appearing all the time, but the old ones (books, paper mail, newspapers) do not go away. Given the confusing array of options in most information environments, people ca not expect the poor user to find and separate out the really valuable information she needs (Stoll, p. 82).

Some critics underline that the information overload is caused by lack of skills and time constraints. Rudd and Rudd (1986) explains that information overload in libraries is caused by lack of skills and inadequate use of time. The best ways to reduce information overload is to improve research skills and carefully select information. It is possible to disagree with this statement because even when providers try to make information more engaging-with appealing graphics, say, or a bulleted outline, the user generally only notices certain attributes of it. Rather than trying to read through a jargon-filled research paper, for instance, a field sales representative for a pharmaceutical company might retain a lot more information about a particular drug if he interviewed one of the scientists who conducted the original trials.

Technology skills for all students should begin in kindergarten. Technology literacy is not a separate subject but a skill to be acquired early. How to use media, navigate the Web, and access and communicate information efficiently and effectively must also begin early”.

Yet information is rarely presented so well that a user can move up the engagement ladder in this manner. This is a direct result of technological changes and new ways of communication brought by technologies.

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Technology changes our life and values. Following Postman (1993): “new technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about”. For instance, because reading and viewing require negligible engagement on the part of the information receiver, it is efficient but not effective. People can “communicate” vast amounts of information through this channel, but each message has little chance of affecting anyone’s behavior. That’s because there is little emotional engagement with or commitment to the information. Even when it is “received”, that is, the recipient actually reads it or pays attention when it is presented, it may not be acted upon. Charp suggests that “teachers, media specialists and technology coordinators in particular must have appropriate hardware, fast Internet access and a sufficient support staff”.

Following Postman, the notion of engagement has many possible implications for information overload. It is obviously an underlying issue in debates about the value of interactivity in mass media. It could influence the ways in which external information providers communicate their information to customers. But the transition to a new approach will be hardest for internal information providers like information systems functions, which have traditionally presented technically dense documents at the bottom of the engagement scale. Postman cites one of the vivid examples of information overload speaking about statistics and its impact on population. He states: “I must call attention to the fact that statistics creates an enormous amount of completely useless information, which compounds the always difficult task of locating that which is useless to a culture”. Even universities and business schools only occasionally teach students how much reliance to place on information vs. intuition, or how to draw conclusions and make decisions based on information. And when they do attempt to address these issues, it’s generally within the narrow context of financial information use.

Partially, information overload changes patterns of communication and affects our lives and society. What seems evident is that computer networking, for better and for worse, has become part of this process of producing social spaces. Even so, however, its technical features and cybercultural pursuits situate it slightly askew of our more conventional social spaces, producing it as a space that mixes together contradictory conditions (Stoll 24). Through the Internet, people can access enormous amount of information worldwide. The Internet creates its own culture of information which reflects in its language what is of value to the people. Recipient has no chance to perceive and interpret behavior of the other person. In terms of the crisis of personal culture Internet identity becomes an interpretation of the self that establishes what and where the man is in both social and psychological terms. In this case, people may feel that stress is greater than that of past times; indeed, it is only during the last forty to fifty years that people have developed the most destructive technology and the most devastating overpopulation in human history. But the detective story, with many of the same detectives who comforted our grandparents during their troubles, is still capable of comforting us (Weil and Rosen, p. 76).

The Internet debate has tended to fall into two broad camps. In what has been characterized by critics as the “technological utopian” position are those who argue that computer networking is revolutionizing society in positive ways. According to this view, technological advances like the Internet democratize information by simplifying the creation, duplication, storage, and distribution of (Weil and Rosen 78). In addition, networking via computers also facilitates communication among a larger number and broader spectrum of individuals, enabling people from different remote locations to associate with each other, to engage in economic transactions and political debates, and, more generally, to make their opinions matter by having their voices heard (Bakardjieva 23). In the “technological dystopian” position stand those detractors who claim that computer networking like other modern technologies, is changing society in decidedly negative ways. Critics argue (Bakardjieva, p. 26) that the flows of data that computers have made possible are serving primarily to numb people with a glut of unnecessary and often inaccurate information. The main problem is that “we are becoming dependent on them for all sorts of information services: ranging from weather predictions to train schedules” (Dennings, p.  60). The investments of personal time and money actually go online, moreover, further isolate and disaffect individuals from their communities, create an ever wider gap between the knowledge-rich and the knowledge-poor, and distract people from social (Weil and Rosen 76). It causes information overload and causes anxiety, feelings of desperation and even emotional directress.

The most important is that new technologies and information require special skills people do not have. Following Postman, people “will receive quantities of information without proper instruction. New technologies change what we mean be ‘knowing’ and ‘truth’. A variety of economic tactics can also reinforce desired information behaviors and attitudes. For example, patterns of information pricing and subsidy can greatly influence how often and how well people communicate. Most organizations do not now charge for internal communications, but one way to reduce information overload fast would be to charge people by the amount of information they send and number of people to whom they send it. Postman underlines that it is important to exercise control over “the use of relevant knowledge, the hierarchical organization of human abilities, and the flow of information from bottom to top and back again”. Only in this case, it would be possible reduce information overload and control information flows.

Exchange of knowledge, for example, should be free; it is difficult enough to transfer knowledge without economic barriers. Yet in practice, many companies charge those with valuable information (generally through computer fees) to provide it to others. As a result, the information is often not supplied, since the owner is essentially punished for doing so. According to Macdonald and Oettinger: “The result in many areas is that the intelligence community and its customers no longer suffer from information scarcity but from information overload”. All such results are the primary influences of the new technology and information overload. Later derivative effects impinge on other social institutions, such as family, government, church. Thus, the great economic changes that followed the power inventions modified the organization of the family. Women went to work outside the home. Children were employed in factories. There followed a shift of authority from father and home to industry and State. In cities homes became quite limited as to space. More time was spent outside by the members of the family (Weil and Rosen, p. 98).

In general, then, these changes in industry reacted on the family life. In a similar way inventions have impinged upon government. In some industries the nature of invention was to encourage monopolistic corporations dealing in services used by a large number of individuals or other corporations. Hence governments took on regulatory functions as in the case of the public utilities. Taxation measures shifted from general property, tariffs, and excises on consumption goods to taxes on personal and corporate incomes and on inheritances. In many other ways the government was forced to extend its functions, as in the case of interstate commerce (Weil and Rosen, p. 121). City governments, especially, had to assume many more activities than those exercised by counties, where wealth was produced largely on farms without the use of power machines. In this sense it consists of skills of body and brain, of technical and administrative procedures, and of mental processes, both conscious and unconscious, some of them associated with value judgments which relate man’s outer world to his inner one (Weil and Rosen, p. 123).

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In sum, technology and information causes global transformation and ways of communication. Information overload becomes a real burden for a modern man unable to resists and control the flow of information in everyday life. Technology, taken to mean organized knowledge and techniques, is not neutral. Technology is a common resource nad the main source of information overload. People choose to have it this way, and see technology as the only desirable line for them to take. Changes in tools and techniques produce violent changes in political and social relationships. Information is nevertheless only one of many developments that are sure to effect drastic transformations in the human condition.

Works Cited

  1. Bakardjieva, M. Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life. Sage Publications Ltd, 2005.
  2. Charp, S. Information Overload. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education) 30 (2002): 10.
  3. Dennings, P.I. The Invisible Future: The Seamless Integration Of Technology Into Everyday Life. McGraw-Hill Companies; 1st edition, 2001.
  4. Jungwirth, B., Bruce, B.C. Information Overload: Threat or Opportunity. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 45 (2002): 400.
  5. Macdonald, M.S., Oettinger, A.G. Information Overload: Managing Intelligence Technologies. Harvard International Review 24 (2002): 44.
  6. Postman, N. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage, 1993.
  7. Rudd, M.J., Rudd, J. The Impact of the Information Explosion on Library Users: Overload or Opportunity?” Journal of Academic Librarianship (1986): 304-306.
  8. Solove, D. J. The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age. New York: New York University Press, 2004
  9. Stoll, Clifford. High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian. New York: Random House, Anchor Books, 2000.
  10. Weil, M. M, & Rosen, L. D. TechnoStress. New York: Wiley, 1997.
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