No so long ago scientists calculated that modern man receives as much information for a week as a Middle Ages man for a whole life. 24-hour access to Internet, flows of information on radio and TV, millions of advertisement materials... Some do not pay attention or simply filter the information, others risk drowning in the avalanche. People are not only tired, but also become dependent. If electricity suddenly cuts off or a player gets broken, we start panicking and do not know what to occupy ourselves with. Nobody buys paper books any more, and to contact friends we need a mobile or internet.   

On the World Information Day, November 26, ForUm wondered what role information plays in the life of a modern man. Will our brains survive under the condition of rapid increase in the amount of published information or data and the effects of this abundance, called "information explosion"? How conformable can people live under a head of avalanche of needless facts?

The farther in, the deeper

Human mind has its limits. It is experimentally proved that brain of an ordinary person can perceive and accurately process information at a speed of 25 bits per second (one medium length word contains 25 bits). With such speed of information absorbing, a person can read not more than three thousand books during his lifetime and only under condition that he digests 50 pages per day. 

At the same time, scientific sector produces several millions of books annually. Even if we read only the latest publications, with every read page we will have another ten thousand waiting. Specialists even introduced a term "waste factor" for literature in zero demand. German researchers studied the demand in one of Berlin libraries and found out that this "waste factor" can be applied to 90% of 45 thousand scientific and technical books, meaning nobody has read millions of pages containing newest technical knowledge.   

Information explosion consequently leads to information overload, a term introduced by Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock. Information overload was a related kind of malady, a psychological disorder where a person has difficulty understanding an issue and making decisions because they have too much information. The insidious effects of too much information are becoming obvious. It overloads our ability to think, to understand, and to really learn new things, as opposed to just looking them up. Those of us suffering the explosive blast of the information explosion see way too much, but observe too little.

Apart from quantity, there is an issue of quality. The information flood is stressful, but not deep. It is superficiality incarnate. The amount and variety of conflicting information bits makes decisions difficult. Moreover, the major part of information is endless repetition of the same thing with minor changes. Take for example modern mass media. All leading papers report practically the same but in their own way.

The main reason of such excess of information is growing number of the very content-makers - internet users. Nowadays,  almost everyone can publish "his" information thanks to numerous social networks, blogs, forums, etc. But in the majority of cases people do not publish something substantial or new. So, maybe there is no information explosion, but pure and simple contaminated virtual space. 

Oh, brave new world!

Medical psychologist Volodymyr Tykhovski believes "information explosion" exists in the modern world, but drowning in the ocean of information is exaggeration.    

"Information is a wide notion, and as every other field it has its leaps and levels of generalization. Hundreds years ago, for example, such simple operation as multiplication was a complicated process. To multiply 32 by 64, for example, the knowledge of then doctor of science was required, while now every schoolchild can do it. Thus, every science undergoes the process of transition to a new category of thinking. Moreover, the average IQ of children changes within time. So, if we combine this improving IQ with new category of thinking we will be able to outflank the information explosion and to solve tasks, set by the society at this level."

As the psychologist explained to ForUm, man himself and his mind can adapt to the huge avalanches of information, as modern human mind significantly differs from the mind of men of the past. The level of informational organization also changes, as not long ago people could not even imagine they would have computers in their lives.

Digital aborigines

For people with big internet experience neurologists invented a nickname - digital aborigines. These people listen to audio records and radio stations, watch TV shows and news, jump from one thing to another, but do not finish reading, watching or listening. They add to bookmarks and save links, but will never know the very essence of what they've read or listened to.

Internet reduces ability to concentrate and contemplate. Our thinking process becomes fragmentary and we take information the same way it is delivered. And in many cases it is not delivered properly.
Assistant professor of psychiatry and narcology department of Bohomolets medical university Pavel Duplenko explains that the problem of superficial perception lies in the fact that the very information is not deep but superficial.  

"Of course, the speed of information perception is individual, but it does not always depend on our abilities or training. It also depends on the exposition of material. The less structural information the more complicated to process it, and the more accurate and logical it is the easier to perceive."
Speaking about man's capacity to filter information, medical psychologist Volodymyr Tykhovnski recalls a myth about Alexander the Great.

"When Alexander prepared for travelling he summoned several mages and asked them to write as many books as he could read during the journey. Mages made him several copies, but then Alexander asked them to analyze everything they wrote and to put it in one book. Mages wrote him such book. After that, the commander asked the mages to summarize all knowledge concentrated in the last book and to put it in one page. After some time mages managed to write this page. However, having decided he would not have time to read even a page during a battle, he asked the mages to write him on a paper only one word, which would help him to focus on the best fight strategy in extreme situation. After long disputes and discussions the mages wrote him the only word "Go". The same concerns the modern man, who having analyzed the structure of the surrounding world concludes that he can overcome the information explosion and make a decision not drowning in excessive information. It is like the technology of fast reading, when you chose the essential and pass by the secondary. On one hand, superficial perception of information is no very good, as you always lose something, but on the other hand, it is important to learn how to find the essential."
Learn, learn and learn

I met Vitya in a chat for cybernetists. He was insulting my friend and I called him to meet in person. Vitya was speaking funny and tortuous and his conclusions were unexpected. He almost persuaded me that it was the fault of my friend in the first place. After some time we lost contact. One day, opening my page, I saw photos I've never put on internet. So, I asked my friend where I can find Vitya, as I had no doubts it was his work. The answer shocked me - Vitya was hospitalized into a mental hospital. Well, I decided he was not normal even before we met, but in two months I learned that another cybernetist was hospitalized. Classmates and professors were told those students overstudied.

There are other stories on internet about students going mad because of overstudying.  So what is the matter? Are students of technical faculties so exposed to information overload? And what about program developers, journalists and others who work daily with large amount of information? Will we all go mad?

In Japan there is a separate category of disease, known as "Karoshi syndrome", which can be translated literally from Japanese as "death from overwork". The major medical causes of Karoshi deaths are heart attack and stroke due to stress. The first case of Karoshi was reported in 1969 with the death from a stroke of a 29-year-old male worker in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper company. In the later part of the 1980s several high-ranking business executives who were still in their prime years suddenly died without any previous sign of illness, and the media began picking up on what appeared to be a new phenomenon. A number of companies have been making an effort to find a better work-life balance for their employees since then, reducing working hours, pointing out the importance of rest and urging workers to go home.

Medical psychologist Volodymyr Tykhovski explains that every man can be driven into a state of schizophrenia, if he is continuously forced to solve difficult tasks with little time for rest. 

"Information overload and insufficient brain nutrition can lead to information collapse and a man can lose sanity. The same will happen if a man perceives a lot of information but does not know how to analyze it properly."

Psychiatrist Pavlo Duplenko also says 'overstudying' for students means to do nothing during an academic year and then try to learn all possible information for a limited period of time.

"Of course, in this case the student will get tired or even go mad. It is just inability to organize rationally the work with information. Information itself is neither good nor bad, but inability to rate one's force leads to overload and professional deformation."

How not to drown

If your work or study is to deal with loads of information, you have to learn to take care of your brain, and not with "Friday parties", Volodymyr Tykhovski warns. 

"Alcohol does bring a certain effect of reload - vessels expand and blood supply of the brain improves. But such relief is temporary. It's better to learn breathing methods and train thinking skills."

If you are a student, do not miss lectures, as communication with talented people, not manuals, helps to maintain your brain at high energy level.

For working people psychiatrist Pavlo Duplenko recommends to understand one simple truth: one cannot earn all the money in the world.

"The desire to earn more money is understandable, but only to certain extent, when it does not hurt your health. If you feel overloaded, take a day-off, sleep and rest. Unfortunately, the decision to take some rest is difficult to take for modern people, mostly because of steep demands to themselves."

A man has always been a "chameleon", able to adapt to any condition of any epoch. Thus, if we learn to rate our forces and train our minds, there will no 'explosion' for another couple hundred years. Do not try to following everything. As writer Louise Hay once said, "all need to know will come to you in the right place at the right time."

Anastasia Pika


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