Every day, millions of Americans face a deluge of data, whether it is news, financial reports, celebrity gossip, the latest headlines out of Washington, D.C., or even sports results. These bits of information are available literally at our fingertips — on our desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets…you name it.
We are bombarded daily with so much information the New York Times recently warned that such an incessant torrent of data might usher in an ‘age of overwhelm,’ a direct byproduct of the ‘age of information’ we all have come to know.
What’s troubling of course is the future only promises more — more information, more ways to access it, more platforms where to digest it, etc. And while advancements in internet access and information availability have benefitted societies in many ways, it hasn’t all been good.
Overconsumption has already become a big issue
According to research by The Economist, data overload is becoming a serious problem — and a significant public health concern at that.
You can think of it this way…
Basically, anything can be toxic if consumed in large enough quantities. Alcohol, sugar, tobacco, even coffee. A little can be beneficial, but too much can be harmful.
To a thirsty man, a bucket of cool water can be a lifesaver. However, drinking that entire bucket followed by another, then another, can put that same man’s life at risk by something known as water intoxication, or hyper-hydration.
Yes, even water can act like a poison when it is overconsumed in a specific period.
Paralysis by Analysis
We all feel the pressure to make good choices in life. To improve our understanding, we instinctively look to gather as much information as we can before deciding on a course of action — that makes research a fundamental element of the decision making process.
Analysis paralysis is a term used to describe the process of over-analyzing, or over thinking an issue so that it becomes impossible to make a decision, in effect paralyzing the outcome. It’s a condition that has taken on new meaning in the information age.
While the benefits of the new age of information can be seen all around us, there’s also a downside — easy access to endless amounts of data can lead to the overconsumption of information, which in turn can put anyone of us on the path of the paralysis of analysis effect.
It seems that for some, the act of researching or analyzing an issue by itself makes them feel a sense of accomplishment. It leaves them with a feeling of satisfaction, of having actually done something, while in reality they’ve done little more than add to their base of knowledge.
Of course, having access to more information is not the same thing as understanding the best thing to do with that information. In fact, many are finding having access to ‘infinite’ amounts of data can actually make decisions and action more difficult.
Information then becomes something of a catch-22 — we either find ourselves unable to separate the important information from all of the background noise, or we’re exposed to so much data that it then becomes impossible to form a conclusion and decide on the best way forward.
The information age is still a bright, shiny object for many of us — it is hard to look away. Information has become, in just the last couple of decades, the fastest growing, most dynamic commodity in the world.
Accordingly, you may want to consider imposing limits on yourself to help avoid some of the pitfalls of the information age. After all, one of the factors contributing to analysis paralysis are the details; specifically, the desire to dig ever deeper into each new detail you expose or uncover. Don’t be afraid take a few steps back to help maintain focus on the bigger picture.
Nobody likes being wrong, and with something as critical as planning the next two or three decades of your life, your retirement, you can’t afford not to get it right. By including others in the decision making process you help raise your level of understanding through greater context, and enlisting the perspective of a professional serves to greatly increase the effectiveness of the desired outcome.
Success in your golden years won’t simply happen by chance — I wish it did, but that’s just not how the world works.