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article imageOp-Ed: Info overload doesn’t bother most Americans? Yeah, sure

By Paul Wallis     Aug 30, 2012 in Internet
Sydney - If you can imagine a more multi-toned headline, I’d be interested to see it. This little trip to the depths of the American psyche is the theme of a study called Perceptions of Information Overload in the American Home.
The study produced some interestingly focused points.
The study finds that:
Participants are all in favor of the new media environment
They prefer online news to mass media
They don’t like cable news or repetitive information from that source
They’re not crazy about “opinionated” political pundits
They find social media posts frustrating when searching
...And this:
“There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available,” said Hargittai. (Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern and lead author of the study) "But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices."
Er... sure...
Those of us who get feedback every day on our online materials may be excused for being somewhat bemused by this study.
The usual experience is:
People waddle around in the new media environment according to their tastes. They actually miss information or ignore it.
They prefer online media because they have more control over what they source and where they source it.
They don’t like cable political and socio-economic news to the point that many slavishly reproduce it and produce libraries agreeing with it online.
Look at any form of information  visual or text  and your reaction is developed by how you received ...
Look at any form of information, visual or text, and your reaction is developed by how you received that information, as much as how you interpret it.
They’re political pundits themselves, and never shut up.
They create a large share of the social media posts related to information they share.
They’re foaming at the mouth paranoid about some information they find.
There’s another, less ambivalent set of observations to be made, too:
A reasonable percentage will prove beyond doubt that they don’t understand the information they’re receiving.
Many block out information the same way people avoid looking at ads.
A lot of people will get on a thread apparently to prove beyond doubt that they’ve misunderstood the information they have.
The findings indicate several possible interpretations:
The clueless aren’t fussed about anything much
The rats on the laboratory treadmills are not alone
You can’t be overloaded by information you’re not getting
Interestingly, the other side to this study is a study in itself- How people actually do get information overloads. The fact is that interpretation, as well as quantities of information and types of information play a significant role.
If you’re prepared to interpret a piece of information as a threat or a risk, the weight of the information load is drastically increased.
For example:
A rundown bit of humanity sees you on the street, smiles, and says, “Have a nice day!” very cheerfully.
The threat/risk receiver interprets this hostile maneuver:
What do you mean, have a nice day?
What sort of perverted acts am I supposed to commit?
What does he think I am, an ordinary axe murderer?
How does he know I’m on my way to buy celery?
Why wouldn’t I have a nice day? What does he know that I don’t know?
What if I don’t? What if…
You get the idea. Information only becomes overload when you’re somehow expected to respond to it or think it has something to do with yourself. Either Americans have become immune to information, or they’ve learned how to avoid it. The alternative is that they don’t think the information is relevant to them.
Cute, huh?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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