Information Overload: Front Page News

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are facing new problems that develop as we enter the knowledge economy.  The problem of information overload, which costs billions of dollars in lower productivity and thwarted innovation, is impacting your organization right now whether you realize it or not.

One question revolves around how much information any one person can manage at a given time.  Compound that with the fact that information technology allows information (imagine that) to be generated at a faster and faster pace and companies whose employees’ work revolves largely around interaction with computers are in trouble.

This past Sunday, the New York Times put the problem of multitasking and information overload on the front page in a story by Steve Lohr .  Lohr sought out experts (including my colleague Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex) and presents an excellent survey of research in this area.

As a regular reader of Basex research, you already know this is a problem: one we pegged at $588 billion 18 months ago.  It’s no longer $588 billion however; recent calculations by some of my colleagues show the current figure to be closer to $650 billion pear year.

This type of discussion, when it appears in mainstream media, is usually buried in the middle of the business or technology section.  That it is on the front page demonstrates that it has moved into the mainstream.  What makes the Times’ article even more compelling are the photos of “potentially dangerous” activities (such as riding a bike or crossing a street while sending a text message).

But what about the Millenials, the generation that was born multitasking?  Won’t they do better?  Current research suggests that this is illusory.  While they may be good multitaskers, research suggests they are no more productive than older generations.  Interruptions slow down the brain and increase the likelihood of mistakes regardless of age.  Harley Freeman, a freshman at Texas Christian University and columnist for the Daily Skiff,  thinks that enough is enough.  In her column yesterday on the dangers of multitasking, she chokes on the $650 billion figure.  Her recommendation: “While society tells us to go, go, go, I believe that sometimes we should just take a chill pill.”

[Editor's note: you can obtain a copy of our latest report, Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us, by clicking here.]

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

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