Document (#29269)

Author
Tidline, T.
Visser, J.
Title
Information overload
Source
Encyclopedia of library and information science. Vol.72, [=Suppl.35]
Imprint
New York : Dekker
Year
2002
Pages
S.217-234
Abstract
Information overload can best be understood as a contingent occurrence. Its presence or absence is a matter of point of view and emphasis. Its existence must of necessity be determined by the point of view of the person or group who is in a position to experience it. Moreover, the consequences of information overload-its power or potential to be problematic-also emerge from the perspective of those who are in a position to experience it. The causes and consequences of this phenomenon assume greater overall weight for information theorists and professionals who are in a position to mitigate information overload. Concem with maintaining access to all manifestations of recorded information keeps library and information scholars and professionals aware of assorted factors considered indicative of information overload. As a result, the topic has been sufficiently addressed in our literature, but like descriptions of information overload itself, the literature is speculative and its conclusions amorphous. Findings can be best introduced collectively by saying that they are like the phenomenon itself-multifaceted-and what you conclude depends an your standpoint and selective focus. Throughout the article, a mixture of arguments will be reviewed and reframed in ways useful for understanding the experience of information overload. Definitions or descriptions of information overload may be inconsistent, but they are frequently presented against a backdrop of concem about the intersection of information, economics, and culture. Some evaluation of these three elements is usually in the forefront of conversations about whether or not we have moved from an industrial society to an information society. Such discussions often cite increases in types of information (more articles, books, and advertisements, e.g.) and means of transmitting it (information and communication technologies, such as television, personal computers, and cellular telephones) as evidence that we have moved from an industrial to an information age. Innovation, diffusion, and interconnectedness of information and communication technology make it obvious to some that people and organizations find the exchange of information essential in both personal and professional life. Certainly where there is a surfeit of information in concert with myriad means and occasions of receiving it, overload is axiomatic. Information overload is therefore presumed to be an indicator or byproduct of postmodern society.
An alternative point of view is that increases in information and transmission channels do not automatically result in overload. This view can be mapped to beliefs that the character of the information society does not afford change along the order of magnitude of a Bronze Age or Industrial Revolution. While there has indeed been some refocusing of priorities, boundaries, equipment, and skill sets in commercial and social life, information and technology merely provide the means of maintaining a certain status quo. There is also recognition that even as some people become increasingly connected, everyone (even in industrialized capitalist areas) does not participate in or benefit from an "information revolution." By some estimates, the Industrial Revolution was accomplished over a range of 100 years or more, when you trace it over various continents and cultures. If in "the western world" (the instigator of discussions about an information explosion and its economic, political, and social consequences) we are indeed moving from an industrial to an information society, it is reasonable to suspect that such change world take considerable time and has therefore not yet been accomplished. It is also reasonable to expect uncertainty about its nature and contradictory assessments about our experience of it. It is therefore reasonable to expect uncertain descriptions of the consequences of such change, including mixed perceptions of the phenomenon of information overload. Because overload is a contingent concept, this article addresses core themes found in the literature about overload, as well as related themes, such its presumed origin in the information society. Deliberation about the advent of the information age is instructive, but this is not the only way of understanding the meaning of information overload. The experience of overload is also examined by looking at the nature and function of human "information behavior" and cognitive processes. The newer topics in library and information science, such as information literacy, social informatics, and information seeking in context (ISIC), are reviewed in order to illuminate information overload to the fullest extent possible. After thus establishing a frame of reference from various areas, the article concludes with a definition of overload that offers the best fit for all of these themes.
Theme
Information

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