“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
As technology has evolved, so too have the way people assess and consume information. Google “information overload” and you’re likely to be on the receiving end of an onslaught of articles and news stories about the matrix of data that we force our brains to bathe in daily.
These days, it’s hard to filter out the noise. At times, it can feel like screens have taken over our lives, or that digital consumption controls us. On smartphones, laptops, tablets, and what-have-you, we’re bombarded with so many messages and alerts that it’s nearly impossible to stay focused and on-task. Tempted to procrastinate? We are all just one click away from wasting hours and hours of time. And this culture of constant connection takes a toll on human beings, wearing us down both professionally and personally.
Now more than ever, people are devoting energy to relatively unimportant information and interactions. Some research suggests that younger kids who grew up with cell phones and texting, will lose their ability to verbally communicate and engage in conversation. We’ve even developed language to describe the anxiety caused by too much information: “data asphyxiation” and “analysis paralysis” are two of my favorites. As British journalist Johann Hari writes in The Economist, “there is a good reason why wired means both ‘connected to the internet’ and ‘high, frantic, unable to concentrate.’
What are potential implications of this information overload–of our unbridled digital consumption? Though research in this area is still very new, scientists’ hypotheses tend to cluster around a few general theories:
Effects of multitasking
Using digital technology has led to chronic multitasking–switching between one task and another–and often leads us down a rabbit hole of distractions. fMRI scans of a human brain engaged in multiple tasks at once has shown a correlation between multitasking and the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, and adrenaline, which can overstimulate the brain, and cause “mental fog.” All in all, it sounds exhausting.
Reduced productivity and engagement–both at work and in your home.
Distractions beget more distractions. Once a person’s concentration is diverted or weakened, he or she is subsequently more susceptible to making poor decisions and is more likely to be less discerning about their information consumption. Why are we allowing ourselves to be so debilitated by technological distractions? Writing for HBR, Larry Rosen and Alexandra point out, “People refer to the overuse of digital devices as an addiction. But since most of us don’t appear to gain much pleasure from the behavior—a defining feature of addiction—
As smartphones and tablets blur the boundaries between work, home, and our social lives, parents are grappling to balance it all. A mounting body of research indicates that parents who use mobile technology around their young children are creating a source of unnecessary tension, conflicts, and negative interactions with their kids.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the information coming out from all the screens? Or that your brain struggles to process the information that floods your inbox and newsfeed on a daily basis? Do you continue reading and watching mediocre content, but aren’t sure why?
Consider this: the potential for information overload was pretty limited until the 1970s–radio, print, and television comprised new sources. Then, starting in the 1990s, the World Wide Web added complexity to the avenues through which we could receive information. Consumers now access new content mostly from mobile phones. In light of research indicating that the mere presence of a phone makes people less productive and less trusting, it’s not entirely surprising that people are more anxious and feel more stressed more often than was purported in the past.
The real neurological implications of our digital consumption won’t be known for some time. It will be interesting to see how our brains and bodies evolve and adapt as we spend more and more of our waking lives online.