8 Must- Reads About Digital Distraction and Information Overload

Digital overload caused by a deluge of information and frequent interruptions is a phenomenon that you cannot ignore. Here are a few “must read” articles that appeared in the popular press during the last several weeks.

Digital overload caused by a deluge of
information and frequent interruptions is a phenomenon that you cannot ignore. A recent spate of articles in the popular press highlight the impact of
distractions on our lives. Here are just a few “must read” articles from the
last several weeks:


Newsweek, Feb 27, 2011 – “I Can’t Think!” – The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionized
our lives, but with an unintended consequence–our overloaded brains freeze when
we have to make decisions.

, Feb. 11, 2011
– “Wired for
Distraction?” – Like it or not, social media are reprogramming our
children’s brains. What’s a good parent to do?

USA Today – Feb 2, 2011 – “Social Media Users Grapple with Information Overload”


The New York
– a 7-part series called “Your Brain on Computers” looks at how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave.

In addition, a number of books have
appeared that deal with the same topic. Here are some books I have recently
read and can recommend:


Hamlet’s Blackberry by William
– “computers and mobile devices … impose
an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build
strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.”

Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains
by Nicholas Carr

Tyranny of Email: The Four Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox
by John


Information: A History, A Flood, A Theory
by James Gleick
– I haven’t read this one yet (it’s just coming out), but the reviews were good and anything by James Gleick has to be great.

From the “statistics tell it all” department, here are few choice quotes taken from these books.

• “Studies
of office workers
who use computers reveal that they constantly stop what
they’re doing to read and respond to incoming e-mails. It’s not unusual for
them to glance at their inbox 30-40 times an hour (though when asked how
frequently they look, they’ll give an much lower figure).”


• “Web
pages are viewed for ten seconds or less. Fewer than one in ten page views
extend beyond two minutes, an a significant amount of those seem to involve
‘unattended browser windows … left open in the background of a desktop.'” (Weinreich
H, et al, “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” ACM Trans
Web, 2(1), 2008 as quoted in The Shallows, N. Carr, pg. 135.)

• “In
2009, it has been estimated, the average corporate worker will spend more than
40% of his or her day sending and receiving some 200 messages.” (Radicati
Group study
from 2008)

• “Sixty
five percent of North Americans spend more time with their computer than with
their spouse.” (Johnson, Steven, Interface
Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
, 1997; as quoted in The Tyranny of
, J. Freeman, p. 95).


• “In 2006, one study found that the average U.S. office worker was interrupted 11
times an hour. The cost of these interruptions, in which email plays a large
role, runs close to $600 billion in the U.S. alone.” (Freeman, p. 140). [Note: I
found another study that says this number is $650 billion for 2009].

This topic is near and dear to my
heart, so I would be happy to get recommendations about additional sources dealing
with digital distraction, information overload, and their impact on the
individual at work and at home.


About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.