Commentators have coined a profusion of phrases to describe the anxiety and anomie caused by too much information: “data asphyxiation” (William van Winkle), “data smog” (David Shenk), “information fatigue syndrome” (David Lewis), “cognitive overload” (Eric Schmidt) and “time famine” (Leslie Perlow).
Johann Hari, a British journalist, notes that there is a good reason why “wired” means both “connected to the internet” and “high, frantic, unable to concentrate”.
Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School has spent more than a decade studying the work habits of 238 people, collecting a total of 12,000 diary entries between them. She finds that focus and creativity are connected. People are more likely to be creative if they are allowed to focus on something for some time without interruptions.
Derek Dean and Caroline Webb of McKinsey urge businesses to embrace three principles to deal with data overload: find time to focus, filter out noise and forget about work when you can.