There’s No Such Thing as “Information Overload” for People of the 21st Century

It’s 1 PM at O’Hare International Airport, and I’m waiting for my flight to NYC in the H terminal, balancing a copy of Scientific American on one knee and my laptop on the other. Across from me, a middle-aged man is reading the Chicago Tribune, while the woman sitting next to me is scrolling through The Atlantic on her iPad. On the television above us, a CNN recap of the Republican National Convention is playing (the subtitles lagging as usual), and many of the other passengers in the terminal continually look up from their cell phones and magazines to catch a glimpse of the program. This is the twenty first century: an era in which humans are inundated with a massive amount of technologically-distributed information on a daily basis. Though this may sound overwhelming, psychologists at Northwestern University conducted a survey that indicates that most people are not overwhelmed by the vast array of media options constantly at their fingertips. In fact, Northwestern professor Eszter Hargittai notes that what appears to be an “information overload” in American society actually has positive effects on people:

We found that the high volume of information available these days seems to make most people feel empowered and enthusiastic. People are able to get their news and information from a diverse set of sources and they seem to like having these options.

The few subjects who indicated a feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of easily accessible information tended to have low Internet skills, and had not yet mastered the arts of Google searching and social network navigation. The majority of subjects, however, expressed no sense of being overwhelmed. According to Science Daily, here are the highlights of this study’s discoveries:

  • Participants had near-unanimous enthusiasm about the new media environment
  • Online news was regarded more positively than TV news
  • Cable news was often criticized for its sensationalism and stream of repetitive stories
  • Trivial social media posts and opinionated political pundits are top sources of frustration when seeking information

The majority of this study’s subjects expressed that television was their most used form of informative media, with the Internet as a close second. Interestingly enough, as aforementioned, online news was regarded more positively than television news. Perhaps this data suggests that, in the future, the Internet will surpass television as the most widely used form of informative media. Given the Internet’s efficiency, flexibility, and diversity, I believe this is a likely proposition. For now, I will continue collecting information from various publications – some printed, some virtual – and contributing to the Internet’s enormous selection of information by writing and sharing articles. This is the twenty first century, and I’m not suffering from information overload just yet.

…Unlike the guy in the Portlandia video above.


Overwhelmed by Instant Access to News and Information? Most Americans Like It, Science Daily
Portlandia, IFC
Image via
The Amazing World of Psychiatry

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