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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS (oxfordre.com/politics). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 30 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

For almost as long as there has been recorded information, there has been a perception that humanity has been overloaded by it. Concerns about “too much to read” have been expressed for many centuries, and made more urgent since the arrival of ubiquitous digital information in the late 20th century. The historical perspective is a necessary corrective to the often, and wrongly, held view that it is associated solely with the modern digital information environment and with social media in particular. However, as society fully experiences Floridi’s Fourth Revolution, and moves into hyper-history (with society dependent on, and defined by, information and communication technologies) and the infosphere (an information environment distinguished by a seamless blend of online and offline information activity), individuals and societies are dependent on and formed by information in an unprecedented way, and information overload needs to be taken more seriously than ever.

Overload has been claimed to be both the major issue of our time and a complete nonissue. It has, as will be noted later, been noted as an important factor in many areas, including politics and governance. It has been cited as an important factor in a wide range of areas, from business to literature.

The information overload phenomenon has been known by many different names, including: information overabundance, infobesity, infoglut, data smog, information pollution, information fatigue, social media fatigue, social media overload, information anxiety, library anxiety, infostress, infoxication, reading overload, communication overload, cognitive overload, information violence, and information assault. There is no single generally accepted definition, but it can best be understood as the situation that arises when there is so much relevant and potentially useful information available that it becomes a hindrance rather than a help. Its essential nature has not changed with evolving technology, although its causes and proposed solutions have changed significantly.

The best ways of avoiding overload, individually and socially, appear to lie in a variety of coping strategies, such as filtering, withdrawing, queuing, and “satisficing.” Better design of information systems, effective personal information management, and the promotion of digital and media literacies also have a part to play. Overload may perhaps best be overcome by seeking a mindful balance in consuming information and in finding understanding.

Keywords: information overload, information anxiety, information literacy, satisficing, big data, fake news, post-truth, digital media, infosphere, political decision making

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