Technology opens the doors to a wealth of information and puts it right in the palms of our hands. News, celebrity gossip, or the store hours of your neighborhood pizza joint are all accessible with just a few quick taps of your smartphone. Advances in tech have come with a slew of conveniences, but at the same time, they can handicap us. This is all because we are constantly bombarded with information and no longer know how to process it all.
Information overload is a situation in which you receive too much information at one time and cannot think about it in a clear way. The term was coined by Bertram Gross, a Political Science professor at Hunter College in his paper The Managing of Organizations, published in 1964, long before the internet existed. It was used to describe the inability of decision-makers to reach a quality conclusion when they were presented with a huge amount of data.
Skip to now and this issue is ever more present and across a much larger group of people. Anyone with internet access can experience information overload, which is just over half the world’s population. The amount of information that is constantly being pumped into the internet also increases by the second. Currently, there are over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being created online every single day. Every time we open social media, snap a photo, stream music and videos, or even enter in a simple Google search, we add to this colossal data stockpile.
We can’t really multitask — not productively at least. Have you ever scrolled through Instagram while watching Netflix? Have you been convinced that you’re attentively consuming whatever show is playing to suddenly realize you have no clue why the heroine is crying? This is because you weren’t multitasking at all, but rather overloading your brain with stimuli and information. While this might seem harmless, information multitasking can actually lower one’s IQ by ten points. It can also lead to internet addiction.
Being over-exposed to digital media can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being as well as cause various physical problems such as backaches, headaches, weight gain, and/or weight loss, blurred vision, carpal tunnel syndrome, and many others (cue fade out of fast-paced commercial voice). But besides the harm to the individual user, information overload also has a negative effect on modern society as a whole.
The freedom of the internet and the fact that virtually anyone can publish anything they want online has made it increasingly difficult to distinguish between real and fabricated information.
According to a study titled, Limited individual attention and online virality of low-quality information, the accuracy of information doesn’t have an effect on its popularity on social networking sites. “Low- and high-quality information have the same chances to succeed,” stated Diego Olivera, co-author of the study. In order to lessen the spread of fabricated news, researchers suggested social media platforms should take a more aggressive stance on removing “bots” or algorithms with fake profiles. Bot accounts “make up a significant portion of online profiles and many of them flood social media with high volumes of low-quality information to manipulate the public discourse.”
Despite social media platforms being full of untenable news, 68% of Americans still get their news on social media. This is because we are more likely to believe news if it’s shared by someone they trust. This means that if a friend or relative is posting something, we are inclined to give it credence even if it’s not coming from a reputable source.
Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, recently amped up its efforts to combat fake news by launching a fact-checking program that uses “both technology and human review to remove fake accounts, promote news literacy and disrupt the financial incentives of spammers.”
The issue with fake news, despite the obvious, is that it’s unnecessarily adding to the amount of information we already need to process daily. If we need to fact-check every article presented to us, we end up at risk of information overload and ultimately absorbing nothing.
Further into the rabbit hole of false news is something called a “deep fake.” A deep fake uses artificial intelligence to combine and superimpose existing images and videos onto new images or videos. It uses the technology invented by student Ian Goodfellow in 2014 called the “generative adversarial network” that can recognize patterns in a person’s behavior through audio or video renderings, which can then be used to doctor various media by blending it with other content.
Back then, the use of this technology was limited to the artificial intelligence research community but in late 2017, a Reddit user called “Deepfakes,” a portmanteau of “deep learning” and “fake,” started posting doctored pornographic videos. In response, Reddit panned the account for violating the site’s content policy but by this time, the creator of the videos had already released FakeApp – an application that can create forged videos and images.
With this technology, it is now possible to make politicians and celebrities look like they are doing or saying whatever you want because of the abundance of visual data available of them online. These deep fake videos are hyper-realistic and difficult to detect.
Applications like this further add to the difficulties we already have with sifting through information online, similarly, if not more harmfully, than fake news.
According to a study, employees are struggling to manage the amount of information they are getting while in office. This leads to an overall decrease in productivity at work. Over a third of the respondents admitted having wasted a lot of the working day attempting to resolve an issue caused by forgetting valuable information. Another study discovered that it takes approximately 25 minutes for a person to return to an original task after an interruption, resulting in even more time wasted at the hands of fragmented attention caused by information overload.
A simple way to avoid getting burnt out, whether it’s at work or during leisure time, is to put technology on the backburner. Turn to one or a few trusted newspapers for your current events or read a book to wind down. Cutting the internet out of your information intake process when it comes to news or research will wildly reduce the chance of distractions as well as assure that the information you are consuming is accurate. If you narrow your searches online as well and stick to sources you know are trustworthy, you will find that there is much less information to sort through. Be mindful of deceitful or gossipy platforms and use social media exclusively for socializing and enjoying rather than as a news source, as tempting as it may be.