For previous generations, information was hard to come by: people had to visit a library, or look through an encyclopedia, but for us, information has become abundant. Overabundant. And the more we have, the more we need. Years ago, we subscribed to a large number of blogs, newsletters, and RSS feeds. There's also an app called Pocket which enabled us to save articles to read later on. This led to having hundreds of articles to consume – and new information was always coming in; impossible to get through it all. ------ This article is an extension of a chapter in “The Future Starts Now” book. Get your copy today to find a future we want to live in and gain insights into actionable solutions we can implement today to make sure we end up in the future we want for ourselves and our future generations.
The concept of information overload is not new. In 1970, Toffler defined information overload as "the excessive flows and amounts of data or information that can lead to detrimental computational, physical, psychological, and social effects." Fast forward to 2021, and the information overload issue has multiplied. Our access to information has grown exponentially, and we are now so afraid of missing out on one tiny, possibly critical piece of knowledge that we never fully disconnect. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? If you answered ‘Check my phone,’ you’re not alone!
With more devices at hand, we are consuming excessive information in a bid not to be left behind; more information than our brains can fully process, resulting in anxiety, mental fatigue, depression, anger, and possibly contributing to society's dumbing down in general. The human attention span is decreasing by 88% every year, and now stands at just eight seconds. Today, 45% of human behavior centres on unthinking tasks. We over-rely on GPS to get to well-known landmarks, even if we’ve lived in the same city all our lives. We are more interested in knowing the name of the new royal baby than whether or not there is a severe issue with climate change. We’ve started to drown in the sea of information that keeps us distracted from our real-world problems.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation, as we now spend more time online than ever – roaming around the internet and social media seeking stimulating information. Remember those popular narratives claiming COVID ‘cures’? And trusting Dr. Google for a diagnosis when you couldn’t see a real doctor? Unfortunately, fake news and misinformation have become part of the endless feeds we consume daily, contributing to the new global crisis that The World Health Organization (WHO) terms the “infodemic” of misinformation. With just a few clicks and forwards, dangerous misinformation can go viral, resulting in us trusting or distrusting a government or brand, misdiagnosing ourselves or failing to seek proper treatment, and panic buying certain items for fear of shortages – thereby creating a shortage. The misinformation virus is dangerous and highly transmissible in its own right, and I recently wrote this article explaining how we can protect ourselves.
A recent study shows that 44% of Indians are struggling with 'information overload' amidst the pandemic. And it’s not just India – information overload costs the US economy a minimum of $900 billion per year in lowered employee productivity and reduced innovation. The endless supply of information is also impacting our mental health. Another recent study reveals that exposure to a variety of information sources negatively affects coping measures related to COVID-19 and the intention to undertake coping behavior in the first place. People are plagued by the pressure to be always online, ready to respond from anywhere, anytime. And this doesn’t just apply to adults. Our children replaced pencils with laptops and iPads as education moved online. Our continued investment in screens only strengthens our relationships with these devices. Will our young people suffer much more from covid trauma as a result? Check out these interviews by The Guardian. So much to think about!
All this information, all the time, yet still we struggle with fundamental questions: In a world that is constantly collecting, tracking, and sharing data, how do we distill what is essential from what is just a distraction? Can we survive on the information we genuinely need to make decisions rather than harvesting data on everything, all the time? What happens to the generation that does not have to think for itself, about anything? The future problem for individuals and organizations is too much, not too little, information. Our over-reliance on information and data-derived choices is gradually beginning to bite back. Even those reaping the rewards of all this extra time spent online are feeling it: Charlie D'Amelio, a TikTok star with 117 million followers, says that she’s ‘lost the passion’ for posting content.
So should we power down our digital lives completely? Go back to the old days of dusty libraries and instantly out-of-date encyclopedias? Some may want to, but the majority won’t. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of today’s approach to information is that we do not have any ‘policing body’ to check “facts” on the internet. What if our governments could define and implement a ‘healthy information diet ’ for everyone to follow? What if we could make healthy information consumption a new attribute for education, healthcare, and employment? It would surely make a huge difference. In the meantime, brands have a big responsibility and an excellent opportunity to protect their customers from information overload. By shielding their customers, they can become the brand of today and the brand of tomorrow. The year 2021 marked the birth of brandcare — a brand that genuinely cares about consumers. What can you do to protect your customers from information overload? If you don’t already have a plan in place, you can learn from those already doing it:
This exponential growth of information will continue well into the future, and now is when we should ask ourselves what type of world we want to leave behind for future generations. A completely tech-oriented society, or a human-oriented, tech-enabled society? Brands currently have a unique opportunity to bring radical change in the way they share information. A conscious effort needs to be made to ensure they are not overwhelming consumers by providing them with more than the information they need to take action. Brands must reevaluate the purpose of their existence by ensuring the mental well-being of their customers. By protecting their customers from the age of information overload, brands can become more human.
This article is an extension of the chapter I wrote in “The Future Starts Now” book. Get your copy today to find a future we want to live in and gain insights into actionable solutions we can implement today to make sure we end up in the future we want for ourselves and our future generations.