Why ‘Data Smog’ May Be Making You Depressed
Information overload leads to stress, especially when much of that information is useless
TIME, 14 November 2011
We live in the Information Age. But I’ve never heard — nor would any sane person suggest — that we live in the Useful Information Age. The modern downpour of data is largely worthless distraction, and the sheer amount is drowning us. Of all of the ways in which the contemporary environment is mismatched with our genes and harms our emotional health, I believe the revolution in information delivery is the one most responsible for epidemic depression. Research so far is sparse but indicative: a 2005 Swedish study, for example, found associations between heavy communications technology use and “prolonged stress,” sleep disturbances and depressive symptoms in young adults.
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When the amount of low-quality information coming at people exceeds certain real but difficult-to-quantify limits, they suffer. They are likely to ignore or forget information they need and to be less in control of their lives as a result. Neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg’s excellent 2008 book, The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory, cites research showing that “there is a fixed capacity for human beings to receive information, and that this limit lies at around seven items,” a number routinely exceeded in the modern workplace, leading to forgetfulness, distractability and disorganization. In the long term, bad-information overload increases stress, with many negative consequences for physical and emotional health.
Phi Beta Iota: Apart from emphasizing that secret intelligence, which costs the US taxpayer $80 billion a year and produces next to nothing useful, is toxic, there is something rather special about the combination of Howard Rheingold, Andrew Weil, and this topic….creating Smart Nations is no longer about getting it right, it is now about surviving. We are killing the human species in so many ways, now it becomes more obvious that being expensively stupid is one of them.