Do We Consume Too Much Information?

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The hypothesis about information overload

I’ve recently been doing a bit of a social media reshaping, trying to retrain my algorithm to not show me things that make me depressed, angry or a torrid mix of the two. And it’s got me thinking about the absolute torrent of information that your average person receives and parses on a daily basis. When you look at something like TikTok, users are on there for around 90 minutes a day, and with the average TikTok length being 24 seconds, that’s around 225 pieces of content consumed on one day from one app, assuming that there are absolutely no skips, which is obviously not true, meaning the real number is way way higher. 

That’s just one app that people use on a daily basis, so with that, Twitter, the news, YouTube and various other information outlets, I figured the true amount of information we are subject to on a daily basis must be absolutely gargantuan. We’re essentially a bunch of monkeys pretending not to be, so it got me wondering if this was somehow bad for us, so I decided to check it out.

How much information are we creating?

The internet was envisioned to be this wonderful repository of knowledge where all of human progress and wisdom was stored, to be freely accessible to all. But there’s a slight snag with this plan, and that is that we are way too nosy as a species. We create content for the internet at an absolutely blistering pace. Recently it was estimated that we create 328.77 million terabytes of data each day. Now that may mean nothing to you, it didn’t mean much to me and I’d live inside a computer if I could, so let me put it into perspective for you, it’s equivalent to 328.77 billion gigabytes, which is roughly : 

That’s per day! I am going to do a blog shortly on data shortages and have already spoken about data's impact on the future of AI, but it stands to reason that this absolute data engine of a species we are part of are causing some negative effects, as we are not built on a biological sense to be able to process more than “oh look a deer and some berries” on a daily basis.

How much information do we consume daily?

It’s obviously incredibly hard to gauge how much information an individual sees on a daily basis as there are so many variability factors like do you have TikTok or are you in a coma, but there’s one thing that scientists agree on, and that is that it is increasing, possibly exponentially.

Evidence suggests the average person is consuming around 74GB of data per day (roughly equivalent to 16 movies), which is equivalent to the amount of data an extremely educated individual would process in a lifetime 500 years ago, and it’s increasing year on year by around 5%. Combine this with the fact that social media content is trending shorter and shorter with the popularity of TikTok and microblogging services like Twitter, and you have a recipe for increasing content data consumption.

What’s the problem with consuming this much information?

If you’re a data nerd like me, you are probably thinking “who cares about any of this, I like having the equivalent of 16 movies poured directly into my brain on a daily basis like hot soup”, but it’s actually been shown for a while that “information overload” is both a real phenomenon and also a detrimental effect of consuming way too much info (it’s also the name of an album by a band called Alien Sex Fiend so there’s another little fact for you to carry with you forever).

It may surprise you to know that humans have been worried about information overload since before Jesus was alive, with Seneca the Elder commenting that "the abundance of books is distraction". It is objectively hilarious to imagine someone seeing like 8 books and going “that is way too many”.

In the more modern day, the list of effects from information overload measured by scientists includes : 

And younger (read more technologically capable) generations are at a greater risk as they consume more information than older generations. The CDC recently released a report outlining how there are record levels of sadness amongst teenage girls, and though there was no definitive link between social media and the results, it’s highly probable that increased social media usage has at least some part to play in this crisis.

Hope I freaked you out sufficiently, I’m off to smash my Kindle with a hammer and meditate.

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