Information overload is a description given to the phenomenon where so much information is taken in by the human brain that it becomes nearly impossible to process it. Alvin Toffler, an academic from Russia, is credited with coining the term. Since the phrase was first used, it has become very popular, especially in the computer age, though some say that the idea is more a time and presentation issue than an actual data issue.
The reason that concerns about information overload have become so prevalent in today's world is explained by the complexities of the communications systems available to human beings. Instant communication is available by e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging. Added to that, are the thousands of academic journals on the Internet, and even more information freely distributed through blogs and amateur Web sites. When all that is considered, information is being exchanged at rates never before experienced.
Further, when considering these sources, much of the information being presented may not be original. As a result, many times the reader or viewer will spend time going over data already received from other sources. If there are discrepancies, or even small differences in the way the information is presented, this could create confusion, leading an individual to feel overwhelmed.
Those who suffer from information overload may come from a variety of professions and fields, but they tend to be those most closely associated with study-intensive pursuits, or those deeply involved in communications. For example, they could be academics or students who may try to to do too much research, by using too many sources too quickly. Doctors doing research into a patient's condition or treatment options could also become overwhelmed with all the materials available to them, as could an administrative assistant managing multiple schedules and channels of communication at once.
Despite the fact that too much information seems to be a real problem for many people, some say the real problem is time overload. In other words, the information being distributed is able to be processed, but there is simply not enough time to do it. If that is the case, the solution is not reducing the intake of information, but allowing more time to process it. Relaxation techniques and improved time management may also be able to offer some relief.
Another problem some see behind this issue is simply the way the information is presented. With television programs and commercials training millions of brains for flashy images and scenes that quickly cut in and out, information often becomes somewhat disjointed. Therefore, the brain must spend a longer period of time trying to connect it all together for a more cohesive picture.