You turn on the computer and open your browser. This time you are determined to get something done on the Internet. You start with a simple task, but a snag appears. Then you decide to check your email while you think about how to fix it. Also, you take a peek at the news. Then there was that song you wanted to hear. You wonder what is happening on YouTube. The next thing you know a few hours have passed. You have gone on so many tangents you don’t know how you got there. You are suddenly telling yourself, “Stop wasting time!”
Does that sound familiar? This is the curse of information overload.
For beginners who want to learn how to use the Internet productively, information overload is an extra harsh curse. It is paralysis by analysis. There are so many paths to take at once, beginners often get overwhelmed. In addition to the heap of programs they need to study, it seems like there are such an unending amount of scams, viruses, malware, technical gobbledygook, and on and on, that there is an organized conspiracy to keep them from learning. Can anyone blame them for giving up?
Information overload is tough to deal with. The good news is that information overload can be managed. But you have to know what it is, including its causes and effects, before you can do something about it.
Information overload is commonly understood as information instantaneously available in such an excessive quantity that it is impossible to absorb and process by any one person. This makes it hard for a person to evaluate what is valid or not, what is fact or misinformation, what works and what doesn’t. Information overload can shut anyone down for doing tasks. Where there should be informed judgment and decision-making, a person instead feels stress, distraction, confusion and uncertainty.
A cute name that has entered the mainstream for information overload is information pollution.
The nature of the Internet is the greatest cause of information overload. Tons of new stuff is posted every second by anyone who can execute a simple Internet routine. Smart and dumb people do this, honest folks and con artists, old and young, and so on. Their information is easily copied and disseminated to the entire world. People everywhere can access it through browsing, social sites, email, and instant messaging, which now includes telephone.
That’s great for communication, but the drawback is that this leads to serious quality control. If people do not set their own standards for checking facts, they encounter countless inaccuracies and contradictions. Constant exposure to information overload is akin to a miniscule signal-to-noise ratio blaring all around us online.
One major villain of information overload is email spam. The only real cure for a bombarded email account is to close it or ignore it and set up another. That really bothers many beginners since they have the same emotional attachment to their virtual email account as they do their physical property. They feel cheated. Learning how to accept this is just one task facing the beginner. Google and Yahoo emails have pretty good spam filters, though, so a beginner is wise to start using one of them.
Information overload can cause mistaken expectations, for example, boys posing as girls on chat rooms or get rich overnight on autopilot schemes. Because of the doubt and uncertainty information overload creates in beginners’ minds, this makes them vulnerable to anyone who sounds confident. How do you know that the person you are reading or viewing is wise and correct? He told you so himself! That’s information overload if there ever was any.
There is also the problem of not getting anything done because of constant interruptions and distractions. In addition to all the popups, automatic offers and spam, there are just too many temptations. All of this is information overload. The amount of time and money lost each year throughout the world from online interruptions and recovery of focus is incalculable.
It is easy for anyone, especially beginners, to feel total loss of control if they don’t get a handle on information overload. This can result in psychological stress and lack of sleep from worry. Some people get addicted to the Internet out of fear of missing something important. They don’t know how to sift through all the information they can access, so they try to look at as much of it as they can.
For beginners who persist, this keeps them in perpetual getting started mode. They will not complete the majority of their tasks as they switch from one thing to another. They cannot ignore their underachievement, nor will people around them. This impacts their self-esteem and causes friction with those close to them.
Beginners need to identify information overload. If they pay attention to what it is in their own lives, they can start to identify its causes and how it impacts their important goals. They need to do this consciously and do it often. It’s the only way to start solving the toxic effects information overload has on their Internet experience and to stop wasting time.