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Overcoming Information Overload Addiction: A Contingency Approach

 

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Information overload is regarded by many commentators as a monster occupying the Internet's most frequently used World Wide Web browsers. It feeds on information with a voracious appetite.  As time goes on, this monster grows bigger and bigger and hoards more and more information in its system for future feasts.

 

As consumers of information, we tap into the vast provisions accumulated by this insatiable monster. Consequently, the more we consume the readymade and readily available information, the more overloaded we become, cudgeling our brains under stress for clear thinking and decision-making.

 

In reality, the man who is responsible for the information overload is Johannes Gutenberg. The invention of the movable type led to a proliferation of printed matter which in no time exceeded what a single person could possibly absorb in a lifetime. With the advent of the Information Age, technologies by means of carbon paper or the photocopier made replicating existing information even easier. Through the digitization of information, documents could be copied in limitless numbers at very little cost. As the information floodgates became open, all sorts of written material began to be sent to us in countless formats electronically, such as junk emails, commercial promotions, poorly researched and written articles to cite a few.

 

In the conduct of our professions, we often face two kinds of situations which create information overload: emails and research for writing or decision making. In this commentary, our discussion is about information overload pertaining to research activity.

 

Briefly, information overload is defined as exposure to or provision of too much information or data are available for consumption. To elaborate on the concept further, information overload is the stress induced by reception of more information or data than is necessary to make a decision, or that can be understood and digested in the time available --and by attempts to deal with it with outdated time management practices.

 

Many pundits contend that for all the benefits of the information technology innovations, it has a debilitating dark side, the information monster known as information overload. This monster's provision has become a treasure trove of information or misinformation which has the tendency to drown decision makers. In researching for information, due to information overload, we often feel as if we are digging ourselves into a hole. The choice becomes so extensive that the whole process turns into a highly stressful situation in our attempts to make an informed decision or write an objective report in a given timeframe.

 

As a result, the decision maker is unable to have quality time to synthesize all that information from different sources, reflect on its implications, and arrive at a viable course of action. In other words, information overload has become an impediment to making sound and timely decisions for the tidal wave drowns us. In the final analysis, productivity and creativity suffers in the face of making crucial decisions.

 

Furthermore, the decision maker is paralyzed into a state of confusion by the sea of information found on the computer monitor. Most of the information gleaned becomes useless within minutes, leaving the decision maker into a state of inaction. Studies have suggested that information overload costs the workforce over $1bn. annually.

 

The professionals, in any field such as medicine, engineering, marketing, gain expertise due to ample information not available to the average practitioners in these areas of specialization. The irony is that we tend to complain when not enough information is available. This becomes a catch 22 situation even though the world economy operates on timely streams of ample information.

 

Instead of complaining about one of the most valuable commodities which has ushered in the Age of Information, we need individually to learn to cope with it in our own way. There is no one way to cure the decease of getting paralyzed by information overload.

 

Despair not, however, here is Noah's Ark to navigate through the deluge of information. Anyone experiencing information overload must be addicted to information and is unable to shake off the habit of getting caught in the surging volume of available information. Drawing upon social-psychological concepts, here is a technique which promises relief for those of us struggling with information inundation which has helped me overcome my own addiction to the Internet:

 

Step 1: Define Your Problem - Accept that you are addicted to having more information. Treat it

 like  the problem of overeating (which makes you overweight or obese); you need to

 put yourself on an information diet so to speak.

 

Step 2: Set Alternative Remedies - Limit your search to only three reliable sources or check out

 three books or refereed journals such as the Journal of American Academy of Business,

 Cambridge (JAABC)  from the library on the topic you are researching, etc. The key is

 to restrict the sources to consult. Like in dieting, you need to limit the size of the portions

of the food you eat for overall good health.

 

Step 3: Experiment with Each Alternative - Search on the Internet or go to the library. You may

 be surprised when you check out two or three books or refereed journals on the topic of

 interest as to how well the topic is researched and written compared to most sloppily

written Internet articles not subjected to peer evaluation. Use the Internet for preliminary source of information and the library for more reliable and well researched information. On account of time constraint,

 most research is resorted to Wikipedia as an oasis of information.

 

Step 4: Choose the Alternative That Works for You - No one method works for all.  Use the

 "contingency approach", also known as situational approach, which is a managerial concept

 stating that there is no one universally applicable set of principles  or rules by which to

 manage organizations, projects, or events. Use the Internet or the library or combination

 of both. However, bear in mind that if you want reliability and validity of data from

 which the information is derived, then the library excels.

 

Step 5: Stick to limiting your research to a few sources until your behavior becomes a habit.

 

Undoubtedly, the Internet is a powerful tool with positive and negative attributes. How we use it is up to us. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is also littered with shallow, misleading, outdated data and articles. Since we have to spent considerable time to sort through the them in order to find well- documented articles, usually information overload sets in. We need to control ourselves not to wade through a plethora of material to avoid being overloaded. This is not to discount the importance of the Internet nor its close cousin the Wide World Web in any way, shape or form. In fact, if there is ever a far-reaching recent invention, the computer is. We have barely scratched the surface of its potential of multidimensional, multifaceted talents, unique capabilities to serve business and society alike in many areas.

 

In this day and age, all sorts of information is available in almost infinite abundance, delivered automatically to our personal computers accessible with only a few mouse clicks to read them. As it has been mentioned earlier, no one method is best. It all depends on the researcher's goal whether to write a well-document article or a haphazardly prepared report, the seriousness of the topic, and the timeline  to complete a project or to make a decision.

 

Going to the library for research, for example, is comparatively more time-consuming, but it is worth it if the goal is to produce a decent report to make a sound decision. Unless we change our behavior and thinking, our own personal culture, the addiction to information  will continue to paralyze us in our daily professional activities. Self-control, the power within, is the ultimate key to success.

 

 

Z. S. Demirdjian, Ph.D.

Senior Review Editor

California State University, Long Beach, CA