Information overload can be a frivolous annoyance or have serious consequences

Written by Jim Walsh

Information overload is a modern phenomenon but one which exploded with the advent of social media.

It means different things to different people.

For most of us it is an irritant that we learn to live with.

Those of us in the communications industry filter information naturally.

But for some people information overload can have serious consequences.

Louise Casey who was the Tsar of a troubled family programme in the UK between 2011 and 2015 says that dealing with assessment forms, summons to meetings and a myriad of other correspondence can be overwhelming for families already struggling with serious social and health issues.

She says that there are so many agencies circling such families that a family needs a diary to keep on top of all the appointments they’re required to attend. Of course when the family inevitably fails to turn up for them all the system judges them on that failure.

“Agencies gather, each throwing their own requirements into the plan. Requirements which families are unlikely to understand or are even physically able to fulfill.”

She describes a grandmother who had adopted three of her drug-addicted daughter’s children.

“She had been through assessment after assessment, she could not keep up with all the referrals and appointments – she was overwhelmed.  She’d been given a list of tasks as long as her arm, things she was required to do, to prove her suitability as a parent. But she had no clue how to do them. And no one who could translate that list into something she could understand.”

At the heart of every example of information overload is bad communication. Good communication should put the audience at the centre of its message and be delivered in the way that best suits its audience.

On a more frivolous level the overload of information at the end of television programmes and films often really annoys me. Why on earth do we need to know who did the cooking or even handle the media relations for the programme?

Recently at the end of a TV show I was watching, the credits were so extensive that even the trainee make-up person was mentioned. I am sure that the person and their family were thrilled to see their work acknowledged in the credits. But for the rest of us it is nonsense.

But whether it is a serious or frivolous issue, if the message is delivered in a way that the audience can understand or find useful or interesting, then information overload is never a problem.

However if information is not provided or delivered in a way that meets your audience needs then you’re adding to information overload.

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