FYI: TMI: Towards a Holistic Social Theory of Information Overload

Resource Author:  Anthony Lincoln
Resource Date:  03/07/2011
Resource Name:  UC Berkeley School of Information
URL:   Link to Source Article or Site

Research into information overload has been extensive and cross–disciplinary, producing a multitude of suggested causes and posed solutions. I argue that many of the conclusions arrived at by existing research, while laudable in their inventiveness and/or practicality, miss the mark by viewing information overload as a problem that can be understood (or even solved) by purely rational means.

Such a perspective lacks a critical understanding in human information usage: much in the same way that economic models dependent on rationality for their explanations or projections fail (often spectacularly, as recent history attests), models that rely too heavily upon the same rational behavior, and not heavily enough upon the interplay of actual social dynamics — power, reputation, norms, and others — in their attempts to explain, project, or address information overload prove bankrupt as well.

Furthermore, even research that displays greater awareness of the social context in which overload exists often reveals a similar rationality in its conceptualization. That is, often the same “social” approaches that offer potential advantages (in mitigating information overload) over their “non–social” counterparts paradoxically raise new problems, requiring a reappraisal of overload that takes social issues into account holistically.