Death by Information Overload

by maelaelsa

Howard Rheingold  devised the term ‘Infotention’ “to describe the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we all need to find our way online today, a mind-machine combination of brain-powered attention skills with computer-powered information filters.”

In today’s fast-paced, technologically-driven world, we are constantly being bombarded with an influx of information. As a result, we need to be alert for information specifically and immediately useful to us. Infotention is not just about blocking out irrelevant information, it is also about recognising what to let in, how to locate it and how to organise it to come to you when it is updated, and how to filter it.

There is no doubt that most of us struggle with information overload, particularly when it comes to effectively filtering and prioritising the content relevant to our personal and professional life. As a result, the pressures brought about by the emergence and development of the Internet have led to the introduction of new ways to source, organise and filter information.

One of my favourite tools for combating information overload is online bookmarking site Diigo




Last year, a study from Columbia University highlighted that the omnipresence of the Internet, in particular our ability to easily retrieve information from search engines such as Google, had adverse cognitive ramifications. Our increasing dependence on data being available at the blink of an eye has impacted on our ability to retain information and made us less likely to remember information that we can find online.


Furthermore, a recent study from Harvard researchers has concluded that the Internet has taken over as our primary source of memory instead of our own brains. When we want to find out something, we use the Internet as an ‘external memory’ just as computers use an external hard drive.


This does not mean that we are using search engines to think for us, but more so, that we are adapting to the demands of the continuous flow of information and becoming better at recalling how to locate information rather than remember the information itself.


The picture below depicts our “Google brain” and delves further into the cognitive consequences of having such instantaneous access to information:





Rheingold, Howard (2009) ‘Mindful Infotention: Dashboards, Radars, Filters’, SFGate,<>.


Sparrow, B., Liu, J. and Wegner, D.M. (2011), “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips”, Science, <>.


Waugh, R (2012), ‘Google boggling our brains? Study says humans use Internet as their main ‘memory”, Daily Mail, 25 January, <>.