‘Information Overload’ Exaggerated (Just Like the Study That Says That)

Via Stephen’s Lighthouse:

“Information overload” may be an exaggerated way to describe today’s always-on media environment. Actually, very few Americans seem to feel bogged down or overwhelmed by the volume of news and information at their fingertips and on their screens, according to a new Northwestern University study.

Interesting, I thought. Could the Clay Shirky ‘filter failure’ of 2008 be a relic of the past? Have people gotten a hang of drinking from the information fire hose?

Well, not quite.

“There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available,” said Hargittai. “But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices.”

The few participants who did feel overwhelmed were often those with low Internet skills, who haven’t yet mastered social media filters and navigating search engine results, Hargittai noted.

That last part sounds right up my alley: teaching people computer skills as well as showing them the tools to help them find what they seek. It’s a simply premise of the library being able to provide the latest to the people who are computer savvy while teaching those who seek to learn how. Plus, it totally fits into the extended mission of the library.

Although, to be honest, I’m not completely sold on the study and I don’t even need to read the actual paper to come to that conclusion.

“[R]esearchers recruited vacationers in Las Vegas to participate in focus groups. Seven focus groups were conducted with 77 total participants from around the country.” (Emphasis mine)

So, out of seventy seven people who went to Las Vegas (a sensory overload of another type but I digress), most people liked all the information in their lives and a couple of people didn’t. I’m not certain what this paper really proves except that it needs bigger and deeper studies.

This really makes me wonder what people consider to be ‘tons of options’. Would it be the first page of results on Google? All one thousand results from the search query? The reported billions and billions of results that it says are out there? And more media choices, what exactly does that mean? Netflix and iTunes?

In the giant pie chart of knowledge, this one seems like it falls squarely into the category, “Shit you don’t know that you don’t know”. What do you think?

One thought on “‘Information Overload’ Exaggerated (Just Like the Study That Says That)

  1. 1. It’s Vegas – how sober were they? (Kidding! I seriously hope they controlled for that!)

    2. What are they trying to do with the info? Tons of options are great when you’re looking for the next awesome tv show to watch, but how do they navigate when they need info about an unfamiliar medical diagnosis? Do they actually evaluate the tons of results or just go to webmd?

    I’d guess you’re right that the “shit you don’t know you don’t know” category probably explains this, though focus group design can really skew things, too.

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