Sunday, 13 November 2016 09:28

“Information overload”: Is big data the solution?


I am probably suffering from “information overload.” Maybe you are too.

In 2016, 6,000 feature films were made and 400 new TV series were broadcast on prime time. In one day, a single major new firm publishes anywhere between 200 and 500 stories. In just over half of one day -- Friday Oct. 28, 2016 for example -- there were more than 1 billion websites, 133 billion e-mails sent, almost 3 billion Google searches, 2.6 billion blog posts, 275 million Tweets, 37.9 million Instagram photos uploaded, 59.4 Tumblr posts and 117 million Skype calls. Each minute, 32 million Facebook messages are sent and more than 500 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube.

Back in 1970, Alvin Toffler, a consultant and futurist, coined the term “information overload” in his book, Future Shock. Toffler said humans were having trouble absorbing and processing all the information flowing around them each day. Information overload made it tough for people to make decisions and stressed them out.

Toffler died on June 17, 2016, but he was not the first or the last thinker to contemplate information overload.

Comparable worries have surrounded each and every new innovation in the history of communication technology. The print revolution that spread across Europe following Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450 was met with concerns that too many books were being published, and too many bad books were being read. The philosopher Immanuel Kant, for example, complained that the abundance of books encouraged people to “read a lot,” and read “superficially.”

Yet, our age of information overload is different than the 18th century one that Kant lived through. I just Google searched for “information overload,” and the algorithm returned 4,730,000 results in 0.56 seconds. That’s more information about one idea than Kant was exposed to in his entire lifetime.

I feel overwhelmed, not enlightened.

Today, there is more information being produced and consumed than ever before in human history. Perhaps there is too much information. The Internet and world wide web invite us to inform ourselves, but also remind us of the impossibility of ever becoming fully informed. As we pursue knowledge in the digital age, we quickly learn how much there is to know, and how little we actually know.

Our society is glutted with information and we are trying to figure out how to deal with it and what to do with it.

Our ability to cope with information overload requires new means for dealing with it.

That’s the message of the big data industry at least.

A lot of new high-tech firms are designing and selling software for storing, organizing, analyzing, curating, and visualizing data. The big data market is worth about $28 billion and its growing.

Paradoxically, the big data industry’s attempt to innovate and sell technological solutions to the problem of information overload may, in the long run, just exacerbate it. After all, Big data produces more data.

— Tanner Mirrlees is an assistant professor in the communication and digital media studies program, faculty of social science and humanities, at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Source :


World's leading professional association of Internet Research Specialists - We deliver Knowledge, Education, Training, and Certification in the field of Professional Online Research. The AOFIRS is considered a major contributor in improving Web Search Skills and recognizes Online Research work as a full-time occupation for those that use the Internet as their primary source of information.

Get Exclusive Research Tips in Your Inbox

Receive Great tips via email, enter your email to Subscribe.