The torrent of text messages, emails and social media updates seems to grow bigger every day. In The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight In The Age Of Information Overload, Daniel Levitin investigates this modern phenomenon. We asked him what effect it has on our brains, and for some practical tips.
What’s the evidence that we live in an age of ‘information overload’?
The amount of information is increasing at a really rapid rate – in the last two years we’ve created more information than we did in all of human history up to that point. Several studies show that, as individuals, we’re being inundated. The average American took in five times more information every day in 2011 than they did in 1986. That’s the equivalent of reading 175 newspapers every day from cover to cover. People say they’re overwhelmed – they feel like they can’t keep up no matter how hard they work.
Is it because of the way our brains store information?
That’s part of it, but I think the real culprit is our attentional capacity. It was first documented in the 1950s that attention is a limited resource and there’s a fixed number of things we can deal with at any one moment. That number is surprisingly small – it’s about four. If you think you’re dealing with more, you’re shortchanging your attention. If you’re drivin