As humans we are endlessly called upon to make decisions based on the information we have, and we are defined by those decisions – as individuals, in business and as a society. Living in the ‘Age of Information’, one would hope that people’s decisions would be more informed and less biased, more based in fact and less on emotion. But instead it seems increasingly that the opposite is true. At what stage did the knowledge economy go from boom to bust?
The Age of Information seems to have proliferated into the ‘Age of Information Overload’, with a torrent of data being disseminated indiscriminately to vast, unknown audiences. In an increasingly connected world, we are addicted to being ‘informed’, glued to our smartphones, compelled to share our views and experiences across platforms to a faceless crowd. And through this, we have buried ourselves in half-thoughts, half-facts and fake news.
In business, we have reached that critical juncture at which this cornucopia of data has become a hindrance, impeding our ability to make clear decisions and limiting our productivity. It is estimated that information overload costs the US economy $900 billion per year in reduced efficiency. I can believe this. As a fund manager, my inbox was a daily irritant: thousands of un-curated emails crammed with research reports and industry data, and only a tiny fraction had any pertinence to me or my portfolio. But I was compelled to scan them for fear of missing that vital piece of information that would inform an investment decision, alter my strategy. With a recent industry survey estimating that only five per cent would have been relevant to me when I received it, I needn’t have bothered. Yet this is a common disorder in business. Commentators have started to talk of ‘Information Asphyxiation’, ‘Information Fatigue Syndrome’ and ‘Email Apnea’, all of which are the crippling effects of information overload.