Information, more than anything else, is the resource through which we engage with the world around us. Without being able to access information, we would fail to uphold many of our responsibilities, whether it is looking for a job, maintaining social relationships or pursuing an education. But having too much information at our disposal can have detrimental effects on learning and memory, as we have limitations in our attention and cognition. In accordance with definitions found online, I define this exposure to too much information, or information overload, as a state of temporary cognitive impairment where a person cannot tend to or process information as he normally could because his attention has been divided by other information.
Information overload is a real problem that affects many people in modern society and effectively prevents us from realizing our cognitive potentials. Between e-notifications, social media feeds, television programming and others, a person’s attention is one click away from focusing on a completely different information source. Some might try to overcome this inherent vulnerability of their attention span by multitasking, but the scientific consensus has concluded that multitasking really does not work. Furthermore, distracting information, or less significant yet more appealing information that divides one’s attention, contributes to this overarching issue of information overload and has led to many behavioral challenges that exist across a wide spectrum of age groups.
Per the CDC, it is estimated that the average child between eight and 18 years of age spends six-nine hours a day in front of a screen, over four hours of which are spent watching television. College students and adult workers are just as vulnerable to distraction as well. According to a recent survey, office employees at work spend several hours a week on their phones, which implies that these workers struggle with staying focused and maximizing their performance. Another study suggests that multitasking can improve study duration, but also lowers academic performance, suggesting that juggling distractions with schoolwork can yield poor results. In other words, distractions can make it harder or more time-consuming for someone to fulfill his duties.
All those findings show just how bad people are at allocating our attention to the tasks that matter, but how good people are at focusing on distracting information. I believe we need to become more aware of the consequences of information overload and divided attention. Last week, I briefly touched on the idea of time-stress, and it seems to me that this lack of time might relate with our divided attention, as suggested by the time-intensive behavior driven by distraction mentioned earlier. Yet, it appears that many people struggle to employ behavioral strategies that deal with their distracted minds and mismanaged time. Thus, in this age of distraction and time-stress, what could possibly be the right approach to sustain our attention that would allow us to maximize our potential while saving us time?
Without a doubt, this is an important question that requires a thorough discussion, and more importantly, practical solutions that can be used by busy and distracted human beings. Therefore, in the next issue of The Candor, I will ponder the question mentioned above and elaborate my theory of the relationship between time-stress and information overload.