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Central California Life Magazine

Information Fatigue Syndrome

Jun 28, 2014 02:20PM ● By Cen Cali Life Magazine

Information Fatigue Syndrome

by Bradley T. Wajda, D.O.

"Row, row, row your boat.” It is a simple song, for a simple task. Even a child can row a boat and understand the principles behind why it works.

Now look at a modern aircraft carrier. It is a boat; however, its complexity defies the ability of any one individual to fully understand all of the technology on the ship. Certainly, no one individual can operate it alone.

Apply this example to other things in the world around you. Who could argue with the statement "knowledge is power?” Yet, as we learn more, our world is becoming more complex at an exponential rate. It is difficult to stay current in the occupations that are related to science and technology. I see physicians on a daily basis who know the "what" but not the "why" behind the medicine they practice because it isn't possible to learn it all anymore. We are becoming a society that is forced to scratch the surface of our chosen field—performing only the practical steps that get the job done. Understanding the "why" is simply too much information.

IFS (information fatigue syndrome) is defined as a condition in which the volume of potentially useful and relevant information exceeds the processing capacity of a person. That overload of information becomes a hindrance rather than an asset. We have seen this coming. As long ago as 1987, it was reported that the daily New York Times contained more information than a 17th century person encountered in a lifetime.

That’s not all.

·        According to Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, “Between the dawn of civilization through 2003, about five exabytes of information was created. Now, that much information is created every two days.” An exabyte is 1 million gigabytes.

·        Ninety percent of all the data in the world has been generated during the last two years (www.

·        BBC News reports that information amounting to the data equivalent of all the movies ever made will pass across the Internet every 3 minutes by 2016.

·        According to BBC News, in 2012, the average U.S. citizen consumed more than 100,000 words a day, and there were 100,000 tweets per minute.

·        In 2013, the average American consumed 34 gigabytes every 12 hours OUTSIDE of work (

·        In the U.S., people who text, send or receive an average of 35 texts per day, and office workers spend 28 percent of their time dealing with email (

·        The typical Internet user is exposed to more than 1,700 banner ads per month (www.

·        A Temple University study found that information overload results in counter productivity, bad decisions and careless errors.

Consider these frighteningly impressive statistics in light of Miller's Law, which states that the maximum number of pieces of information a human brain can handle concurrently is seven. Psychologist George A. Miller of Princeton University published a paper in 1956 in which he asserted that the number of objects that an average human can maintain in his or her working memory is seven, plus or minus two.  So, regardless of the amount of information we are exposed to, we can’t process information any faster than our limited capacity to handle it.

Information overload has been linked to increased mental stress and poor physical health.  Furthermore, has reported that spending large amounts of time using social media can lead to short-term memory loss.

Now that you are aware of IFS, you need to take steps to manage the flow of information directed at you in order to avoid it.

Gimme a break! Remember, the Internet is there 24/7, so take a break. Schedule breaks that allow you to have quiet time and regain your perspective.

Filter. Scan for information using only trusted, high-quality sources, and set limits on how much information you are going to gather—using only what you need.

Turn the tables. Ironically, you can use information technology to take charge of your information flow and manage it. There are many services specializing in gathering and sorting information in various fields of interest. They try to highlight the most relevant pieces of information and make them available to you—though often by subscription. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine has a service that will “journal watch” and select summaries of the latest advances in medicine, which are broken down into specialties such as psychiatry.  Evernote, eFileCabinet, and Google Docs are known for helping to manage large numbers of documents. Hootsuite, SocialFlow and Sprout Social are popular for social media management (scheduling tweets for your business, posting on Facebook, etc.).

Beware. Internet addiction is a very real illness that deserves substantially more attention than I can devote here. If you suspect that your need for screen time—whether it be on your smartphone, tablet or computer—begins to affect your ability to function socially and/or professionally, seek a professional opinion.

Hopefully, you find this information helpful in the sea of information overload.  It is certain that this information is obsolete—even as I write it. This fact is not as startling as the realization that the information currently listed on the Internet regarding information overload will be outdated and eclipsed by new data in the time it took you to read this short article. I leave you with the sobering reminder that the World Wide Web is only 25 years old.