Human Data Overload Part II: Fixing It

by Jordan Spencer Cunningham on

See part one explaining the problem here

Since the dawn of the modern office, the common man has increasingly had to deal with the stresses of too much information causing him what is known as information overload. According to a study performed at the beginning of the internet’s explosion, “information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity”. The processing capacity of mankind has been pushed to its limits in the years since that study, and now society is facing unprecedented problems with stress, unproductivity, laziness, and even unfaithfulness all due to the vast increase in the overload of data having to process through the average human brain.

The problems exist in every developed part of the world. The solutions, however, seem to be choked out by the problems themselves. Thousands of tools exist attempting to solve the information management problem, but all of them fall incredibly short of doing so and rather contribute to that problem. The solutions are simple but hard to accept: all users need to practice discipline in the realm of information and many power users need an assistant to help manage information with them.


History of the Problem

Even in the early roots of the modern office and the ancestry of easy access to vast amounts of information (ca. 1800), some people complained of feeling overwhelmed with information. It began with the introduction of personal computers into the workforce; data was processed and work was done more efficiently; instead of stopping there, mankind simply increased his workload, and then technology caught up with it and in some cases increased the data input, and so on. Offices began to do away with secretaries while increasing workload and placing it on the shoulders of common workers despite the fact that the need for secretaries has never been greater.

As technology became more pervasive and eventually saturated the average home, social media became the de facto standard for communication. It transitioned from being a novelty to a perceived need, and now the common American is daily flooded with too much information that he doesn’t need but thinks he wants.

Added to the general use of the internet and other disseminating and overused mediums of today, this overwhelming amount of information actually slows an individual’s progression; even in the business world where information is key to productivity, a person will get lost in too much information and cognitive ability, judgment, and productivity will falter, thereby crippling profitability.


The Multitudinous Solution Problem

It has been proven time and time again that the world is flooded with too much information. The problems are obvious. The resolutions, however, have been difficult to pin down.

Thousands of supposed solutions have been created through the decades from smartphone apps to help manage tasks to browser add-ons that limit time spent on certain websites to automatic calendar aggregators that ironically attempt to manage the management applications. The problem with most of these is simply that, despite the stalwart attempt of helping the user manage the information with which he has to deal, it’s just another application or service that the user has to manage, monitor, and so forth.

The main problem of today’s information overload isn’t that we lack information management tools—there are literally thousands of them and more popping up every day. The problem is that more data than is usually even needed is constantly being created, disseminated, and consumed. We don’t need more information management tools. We need information management discipline.


Discipline Practice: An Exercise Forgotten

Truly, one of the easiest solutions to so many of the world’s problems today is for the general populace to simply exercise discipline. It applies ever so to the information overload issue at hand.

While some information is by its nature unavoidable—the data having to be parsed at a workplace via emails or meetings, for example—much of the information to which individuals subject themselves today is unnecessary (that being said, perhaps the person in charge at that workplace is causing unnecessary information to be poured upon his subordinates).

The most time spent online outside of workplace activities is easily on social networking sites. The world’s focus is on social media. To put it in numbers, Facebook and Youtube both boast over one billion active users each every month, Google Plus has over 500 million active users monthly, LinkedIn—arguably more useful than the previous two sites—sports 300 million active monthly users, Twitter reports 241 million active monthly users, and Pinterest is taking the rear with 70 million active monthly stay-at-home-moms users and counting. Add that to the billions of web pages recreationally surfed every day as well as all of the rest of the internet’s comings and goings, television, video games, and other media, and you have on average more hours  of text, audio, and video for every media consumer than is healthy: 11 hours according to one report. Not only are countless hours wasted, but just more information is processed in the average brain, and the human race’s productivity is thwarted, thus negatively affecting every other positive aspect.

The best solution for this problem is, again, individual discipline. If each user exercised his or her willpower to develop him or herself, the world would be a different place. We would still have incredible networks to communicate with important people at the speed of electricity, and we would be pursuing and achieving our dreams more, we would be more productive in work and business, our family relationships would be better, we would actually be more social—we would just be doing more.

The downside of this solution is that each individual has to choose to use it. There is no solution that can be instituted by a government, a corporation, or any other group, no matter how powerful. The only power to change this stagnation in human progression caused by information overload is in seven billion pairs of hands.


Workplace Woes Resolved: Get a Secretary

The workplace was first to be known for its drastic contribution to the information overload problem. Business is a driving force, and it drives some people insane with its pressures and responsibilities. Even during ancient times forms of secretaries were used to help alleviate responsibilities of professionals, especially the more mundane or organizational responsibilities, and in more recent times (ca. 1900) secretaries and personal assistants became standard issue within large and small businesses and the public sector.

Ironically, with the introduction and increase in digital technology and with the rising flood of data to be processed, the use of secretaries has increasingly been abandoned; the number of secretaries continues to deflate today. They have largely been abandoned by the 21st century business world to save on operating costs, but what information inundated businesses find is that what is saved on fewer salaries is often lost in lack of productivity (Kolhatkar, 2013): power users simply have too many important things to accomplish, and when they have to also manage their calendar, tasks list, email, organization, and any number of additional things depending on the business, the productivity in their area of expertise (the money making area) is reduced, thus reducing profit.

If large businesses and groups would spare a fair secretary’s salary to help them manage their administrative overhead, business power users would be able to focus and think more clearly on the more profitable parts of their business. If smaller businesses provided one secretary for every group of three to five people, they would be able to offload administrative and organizational tasks to that secretary and be able to focus more on their money-making procedures while feeling calmer and less pressured, thus being able to do work more efficiently and at a higher quality.


The Bottom Line

There is a rising problem with information overload in the world today. It’s throttling productivity and advancement of the human race as a whole; too much time, energy, thought, and emotion is currently invested in too much information, the bulk of it unneeded and unimportant. Non-business users are constantly saturated with recreational media such as television and social media while business users are inundated with too many details and too many tasks to actually do their work efficiently. If non-business users would simply exercise some discipline, they would be able to break free of the swamp of unnecessary data and focus more on advancing their lives and achieving their dreams in so many aspects; if business users would start to use secretaries more instead of abandoning the concept despite facing more information to process and things to accomplish than ever before, they would find their lives simpler and their work more enjoyable as they’d be able to focus on the money-making instead of the plans for money-making.

Solving information overload is extremely doable in both the business and the personal sections of life, but it can only change one individual and one small group at a time.

Written to appease some elements of the English Composition I course at Western Governors University.