What is Information Pollution?

                With the rapid rise of technology, we’ve witnessed the human brain trying to adapt to large amounts of information that’s streaming in from all directions.  We’ve experienced collective attention fatigue as a result, and now the continuous stream of information is leading some scientists to believe that it’s affecting us much like environmental pollution. 

                The research found in the journal Nature Human Behavior earlier this month finds that, though useful in many situations, the overwhelming amount of information available to us results in a paradoxical inability to make decisions.  Research teams at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute finds that it’s not just fatiguing our brains, but is also resulting in a cognitive and emotional decline when faced with how we evaluate all that information.

                This has now been dubbed “information pollution” by some scientists who are comparing the rapid rise of information becoming so readily available to us as the same effects that were experienced by humans who went through other developing societies that shifted towards other types of information overload, such as open publishing and the Industrial Revolution. 

                The information overload occurs at both a group and an individual level, starting with the cognitive effects on the individual, then the decisions made at a group level, and followed by the interaction between individuals, groups, and sources of information at the societal level.  The scientists believe that regulations should be put in place to help people regain better cognitive functions, such as evaluating information and making decisions, because they are seeing a connection between poorer life satisfaction, emotional wellbeing, and even job performance due to the overload of information.

                This “data smog” is also something that affects censorship and how information is delivered on a societal level.  In this age of instant connectivity, we might be losing our ability to filter the information in a way that our brains can process without approaching total burnout.  This is a good reminder and call to attention to make sure we’re unplugging for the sake of our brains, even if we think reading just one more article won’t hurt.  We all need a rest from the processing.


Further Reading

Janusz A. Hołyst, Philipp Mayr, Michael Thelwall, Ingo Frommholz, Shlomo Havlin, Alon Sela, Yoed N. Kenett, Denis Helic, Aljoša Rehar, Sebastijan R. Maček, Przemysław Kazienko, Tomasz Kajdanowicz, Przemysław Biecek, Boleslaw K. Szymanski, Julian Sienkiewicz. Protect our environment from information overload. Nature Human Behaviour, 2024; DOI: 10.1038/s41562-024-01833-8

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