Information Overload – How is it Impacting Your Organization?

To paraphrase an old saying, we try to do our work, but along the way information gets in the way.  It’s not unlike Tetris, where the goal is to keep the blocks from piling up.  You barely align one, and another is already on its way.  Information, in the form of e-mail, instant messages, text messages, Web pages, discussion forums, RSS feeds, wikis, Weblogs, phone calls, letters, magazines, and newspapers, keeps piling up.  In fact, we have become far more proficient in generating information than we are in managing it, and we have also built technology that easily allows us to create new information without human intervention.

It isn’t a new problem and it was very much on the minds of thought leaders of an earlier information age centuries ago, including Roger Bacon, Samuel Johnson, and Konrad Gessner whose 1545 Bibliotheca universalis warned of the “confusing and harmful abundance of books” and promulgated reading strategies for coping with the overload of information.

Information overload was also predicted by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock (1970).  In 1989, Richard Saul Wurman warned of it in his book Information Anxiety.

As I mentioned two columns back, a few weeks ago I participated in a workshop on “Infomania,” or information overload as most of us call it, with 20 people in attendance.  Attendees ranged from corporate managers who are facing this problem to academics studying the problem.

Today, for companies with thousands of knowledge workers, information overload has become a major problem, costing them perhaps billions of dollars in lower productivity and hampered innovation.  It may also be harmful to employees in a variety of ways, including lowering comprehension levels and skewing the work-life balance.

Each of us loses an average of 2.1 hours per day thanks to unnecessary interruptions and recovery time.  This costs the U.S. economy $588 billion per annum (See our report The Cost of Not Paying Attention for more details).

We are preparing a white paper on this subject and I would like to get your input.  Please tell me what your organization is doing about information overload and what your own thoughts are on the subject.  Please send me a note at

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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