Help! I’m Drowning in Information

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

January-February 2004

We are in an era of information and communication overload. And there is no end in sight.  We have all adapted relatively quickly to electronic methods of communication including e-mail, voicemail, fax, cell phones and other electronic gadgets.  It is not unusual for someone to have more than one cell phone and more than one e-mail account.  In a study with one of my students, we found that more than half the people queried had three or more e-mail accounts.  How many do you have?  How much time do you spend checking them during the day? If you add up your e-mail messages and voicemail messages do they total over 100 per day?  That’s about average.  That does not count Spam (junk e-mail). Recent estimates suggest that by 2005 you will receive 1400 Spam messages a day.  Even with the government’s new anti-Spam bill there is no stopping it.  How much Viagra can they think a person needs? 

 The Internet is certainly amazing.  Any topic, any question, and the answer can be found on the Internet in a matter of moments.  The other night my friend remembered a short part of the lyrics of a song from the 60s.  Two minutes later we had the entire lyrics and the sheet music.

The problem with the Internet is that there is too much information.  Do a Google search and you get 2,000,000 hits.  Try to whittle down your search terms and you get down to 50,000.  And that feels good! How long will it take you to check out only a small portion of those sites?  I tell my students that if they start doing research for a term project on the first day of the semester there will be twice as many web pages on their topic by the end of the semester.  It is overwhelming.

It is not just the web that is overwhelming us with information.  Are you able to read all those magazines that you get each month?  How much time are you able to spend reading the newspaper?  What about all the information from professional organizations?  Do you just stack it all up in the hopes that a day will come when you can read it all?

Here’s how to survive the data smog:

Now here’s how to fight Communication Overload:

Ok, now it is time for true confessions.  Yes, I only have one cell phone, but I have three e-mail accounts and I check them way too often.  And much of the time I respond way too quickly.  I get sucked into the web and spend too many hours looking for information.  I have stacks of magazines that I know I will never read.  The good news is that I do have only about a dozen e-mail messages in my Inbox at any time. I have mastered the delete key.  I turn my cell phone off when I don’t want to be disturbed.

So, do what you can.  Every little bit helps.  Sorry to tell you but things are only going to get worse.  There will be more information and more people will contact you every day.  We may drown in information but we’re not going t