Information overload strains U.S. economy

high-res-cover-with-foreword1Today in Intro to Media, we’re going to talk about books, media literacy and information overload.

Jonathan Spira, author of a book called “Overload!” says millions of Americans are swamped with digital information and it cost the U.S. economy nearly $1 trillion in 2010. (See stories of overloaded Americans here.)

Spira writes:

  • Reading and processing just 100 e-mail messages can occupy over half of a worker’s day.
  • It takes five minutes to get back on track after a 30 second interruption.
  • For every 100 people who are unnecessarily copied on an e-mail, eight hours are lost.
  • 58 percent of government workers spend half the workday filing, deleting, or sorting information, at a cost of almost $31 billion dollars.
  • 66 percent of knowledge workers feel they don’t have enough time to get all of their work done.
  • 94 percent of those surveyed at some point have felt overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacitation.
  • One major Fortune 500 company estimates that Information Overload impacts its bottom line to the tune of $1 billion per year.

No doubt I am going to contribute to my students’ information overload today, but I also want to help them learn to prioritize what they consume. A useful book that describes a strategy for that is “The Information Diet,” a book by Clay Johnson.

Johns says Americans spend 11 hours a day consuming information and a lot of it is unhealthy.

He argues that:

  • Media companies have learned to produce cheap information just as food factories know how to produce cheap and plentiful junk food.
  • Money drives most of the so-called “content farms,” not the desire for editorial quality. Example: A leaked AOL Powerpoint presentation put traffic and revenue potential, and turn-around time, ahead of editorial quality.
  • Affirmation – telling people what they want to hear – and sensationalism sell better than factual information that might strengthen our democracy or help citizens make better choices.
  • Junk information gives some people a distorted sense of reality. Example: Some people quit their jobs after an evangelical radio host predicted the world would end (if you are still reading this, the world did not end).

So what information has editorial quality? Johnson recommends that people seek out information that is based on fact, not opinion. So rather than read opinions about the federal government’s latest proposal, he says, look up the proposal itself and read it.
Other examples of quality information include: Public records, fact-based reports and scientific research.
Keep in mind that media organizations have a mixed record when reporting the facts. Some news stories may be largely based on fact, but others are biased, distort the truth or omit important details.
Not surprisingly, the credibility of news organizations has dropped, the Pew Research Center reported in August. Many people don’t believe what they read or see in the media.

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