There is No Such Thing as Information Overload

“To thrive amid unprecedented amounts of novelty, we must shift from being mere seekers of the new to being connoisseurs of it.” — Winifred Gallagher, writing in New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change

The information diet

Just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much information can lead to stupidity.

Clay Johnson’s book, The Information Diet, shows you how to thrive in this information glut, but you must accept that there is no such thing as information overload.

Once we begin to accept that information technology is neutral and cannot possibly rewire our brains without our consent or cooperation, something else becomes really clear: there’s no such thing as information overload.

It’s the best “first world problem” there is. “Oh, my inbox is so full,” or “I just can’t keep up with all the tweets and status updates and emails” are common utterances of the digital elite. Though we constantly complain of it—of all the news, and emails, and status updates, and tweets, and the television shows that we feel compelled to watch—the truth is that information is not requiring you to consume it. It can’t: information is no more autonomous than fried chicken, and it has no ability to force you to do anything as long as you are aware of how it affects you. There has always been more human knowledge and experience than any one human could absorb. It’s not the total amount of information, but your information habit that is pushing you to whatever extreme you find uncomfortable.

In 1755, the French philosopher Denis Diderot noted:

As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.

It’s not information overload — it’s information overconsumption.

Information overload means somehow managing the intake of vast quantities of information in new and more efficient ways. Information overconsumption means we need to find new ways to be selective about our intake. It is very difficult, for example, to overconsume vegetables.

Still Curious? The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption is an eye-opening read